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August 28, 2015

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Obama says sequester not an apocalypse, ‘just dumb’

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Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

President Barack Obama gestures as he speaks to reporters in the White House briefing room in Washington, Friday, March 1, 2013, following his meeting with congressional leaders regarding the automatic spending cuts.

“This is not going to be an apocalypse. It’s just dumb.”

That was how President Barack Obama summed up the sequester Friday, speaking to reporters after an Oval Office meeting with the four congressional leaders — the first official step toward striking a compromise to avoid the full effect of sequestration the team of political frenemies has taken.

Obama scolded Congress repeatedly — reserving his sharpest rebukes for Republicans — for having missed the self-imposed March 1 deadline to prevent an across-the-board budget cut from going into effect at selected federal agencies.

“The greatest nation on earth doesn’t conduct its business in month to month increments, or by careening from crisis to crisis,” Obama said.

“It is absolutely true that this is not going to precipitate the type of crisis with the country defaulting...but people are going to be hurt,” he said. “The economy will not grow as quickly as it would have, unemployment will not go down as quickly as it would have, and there are lives behind that.”

But, Obama suggested, missing the sequester deadline might not be a completely bad thing, because sequester pain can encourage congressional progress.

“My hope is that after some reflection, as members of Congress start hearing from constituents that are being negatively impacted, as we start seeing the impact the sequester’s having, that they step back and say: ‘All right, is there a way for us to move forward?’” Obama said.

But forward for Obama isn’t just finding an alternative set of cuts for the sequester. Obama said his sequester replacement would be a combination of spending cuts, entitlement reform and tax reform.

“I don’t think that’s too much to ask. I don’t think that is partisan,” Obama said, noting that he thinks several Republicans would agree with his approach. “There is a caucus of common sense up on Capitol Hill. It’s just, it’s a silent group right now.”

Obama’s plan actually is less potentially controversial than Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid’s proposed solution, which would involve raising the tax rate incrementally on the highest wage earners to offset sequester cuts. Obama didn’t talk in those terms Friday, noting that he wants tax reform “without raising rates.”

Emerging from the White House meeting Friday, House Speaker John Boehner, the chief Republican on Capitol Hill, indicated that he was no more willing to talk about collecting more tax revenue after the meeting than before.

But Obama indicated that Republicans were not willing to give any ground just yet on closing tax loopholes, either — a tactic that generates more tax revenue for the government by ending deductions instead of raising rates.

“It’s time to focus on spending,” Boehner’s office said the speaker told the group.

On Thursday, Reid appeared unruffled as he talked about plans to work with Boehner and other Republicans to offset the sequester cuts and tackle the next phase of the federal budget before both come up to a hard-and-fast effective deadline of March 27. Congress is scheduled to be in Washington working through March 25.

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