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Obama urges super committee leaders to 'get the job done'

November 11, 2011|By Michael A. Memoli and Lisa Mascaro
  • President Obama walks along the colonnade of the West Wing of the White House before departing for San Diego.
President Obama walks along the colonnade of the West Wing of the White House… (Kevin Dietsch / Getty Images )

President Obama on Friday prodded the chairs of the super committee "to get the job done," with less than two weeks left for congressional leaders to reach agreement on a $1.5-trillion deficit reduction panel.

Obama phoned Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) separately from Air Force One shortly after leaving Washington for a nine-day trip overseas, to get an update on the committee's progress.

According to the White House, Obama "made clear that he will not accept any measure that attempts to turn off part of the sequester," or trigger, that would force mandatory spending cuts equally across defense and domestic accounts if the committee fails.

"Right now the important thing is for the committee to focus on its work to achieve what is eminently achievable, which is a significant deficit and debt reduction package," press secretary Jay Carney told reporters traveling with the president to California, where he will attend the Carrier Classic basketball game.

"I think he got a good update on where things are. They're obviously continuing their work. We remain hopeful that the committee will get the job done," Carney said.

Murray's office had no further comment. Hensarling's spokesman said that the co-chairman questioned Obama's perceived veto threat, and said the president should clarify his comments.

"Hensarling informed the president that Republicans made a major concession by offering to raise revenue as a way to forge agreement with Democrats," his spokesman David Popp said. "Many individuals have interpreted the president's threatened veto to mean that Democrats could not agree to any health care reforms that would slow the rate of growth for Medicare and Medicaid without also insisting upon a minimum $1 trillion tax increase.  Chairman Hensarling suggested to the President that if this was not his intent, then it would be helpful to the negotiations for that to be clarified."

Carney maintained there was no such veto threat, because: "There's nothing to threaten a veto over."

Even though Congress was essentially closed for the Veterans Day holiday, most members of the super committee stayed in town to continue their closed-door talks as they try to strike a deal.

Members were expected to continue swapping proposals, or pieces of proposals, all weekend as the panel works to break the stalemate. The committee has just days remaining before the Nov. 23 deadline for the committee to vote on a $1.5-trillion deficit-cutting proposal.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), emerging from a meeting late Thursday evening at the office of fellow super committee member Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), said the two sides are continuing to have conversations "batting around a lot of ideas."

"Still working," said Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, as he left late Thursday for his home state Kentucky.

Some Republicans have criticized Obama for not taking a more substantial role in the committee's negotiations, as he did during the summer debt ceiling fight with House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio).

But Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) said earlier this week such criticisms put the president in a no-win situation.

"He's damned if he does and damned if he doesn't," Durbin said. "If he gets involved, it becomes the Obama budget plan and people say, 'That's it. I'm walking out.' If he doesn't get involved they fault him and say, 'You know, he really knows how to get this done and he just doesn't engage.' I think he's trying to strike the right balance."

As the committee struggles, some lawmakers -- particularly defense hawks -- have openly began discussing ways to undo the triggers to protect the Pentagon for cuts. Because those reductions do not happen until 2013, some lawmakers expect they may never come to pass.

After attending Friday night's game on the deck of the USS Carl Vinson, Obama travels to Hawaii for a summit of Pacific economic powers. Next week he continues on an official visit to Australia, and then another economic summit in Bali, Indonesia.

He departs for Washington from Bali on Nov. 19.

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