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Obama previews State of the Union address, challenges GOP on sequester

February 07, 2013|By Michael A. Memoli
  • President Obama speaks during the House Democratic Issues Conference in Lansdowne, Va.
President Obama speaks during the House Democratic Issues Conference… (Brendan Smialowski / AFP/Getty…)

LANSDOWNE, Va. -- President Obama previewed his State of the Union speech themes during a pep talk to House Democrats on Thursday, while framing the fiscal battles with Congress in familiar terms as he called for an end to "governance by crisis."

Obama told his party's House members that in his address to Congress next Tuesday he would outline an agenda for economic growth that ensures all Americans can thrive, balancing further deficit reduction efforts with needed investments to grow the economy.

Ahead of dramatic across-the-board spending cuts due to take effect in March, known as the sequester, Obama said he was "prepared, eager and anxious" to reach a significant deal to avert not only the sequester, but future debt ceiling crises and government funding showdowns.

“Every two weeks or every two months or every six months we are threatening this hard-won recovery,” he said. “Finally, housing's starting to pick up and commercial real estate's starting to do better. And the unemployment numbers are still too high, but we're seeing some job growth, and businesses are investing, and manufacturing's doing well, and we continue to have these self-inflicted crises here in Washington that suddenly leads everybody to tap the brakes.”

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Obama, speaking to lawmakers over lunch in a ballroom on the grounds of a golf resort where Democrats are huddling for three days to plot strategy for the coming year, claimed that Republicans would seek to replace the sequester with cuts to entitlement programs, such as Social Security and Medicare, while refusing to raise new tax revenue.

“If that's an argument that they want to have before the court of public opinion, that is an argument I'm more than willing to engage in,” he said, returning to themes he used in his reelection campaign and ahead of the fiscal cliff deal in December. “I believe the American people understand that yes, we need to do -- reduce the deficit, but it shouldn't just be on the backs of seniors,” students and working families.

Republicans argue that the president won all the new revenue he will in the fiscal cliff deal, which raised taxes on Americans who earn $400,000 or more a year while putting off the sequester for two months -- a fight the sides are girding for again now. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has criticized loopholes the president said he would close as gimmicks when the nation faces more serious deficit challenges.

Obama was set to also engage in a question-and-answer session with the House Democrats, but behind closed doors, as he did with Senate Democrats on Wednesday. The president told the caucus, which grew after the 2012 election but remains in the minority in the House, that they, like him, should be “humbled” by the opportunity to serve and not “read too much into any particular political victory.”

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But, he added, “I think it's also important for us to feel confident and bold about the values we care about and what we stand for.”

“Over the next four years, as I work with this caucus and every caucus, the question I will ask myself on every item, every issue is: Is this helping to make sure that everybody's got a fair shot and everybody is doing their fair share and everybody's playing by the same rules, because I believe that is a growth agenda, not just an equity agenda, not just a fairness agenda. That is a growth agenda. That is when we have grown fastest,” he said. “And that means that’s what you'll hear from me next week.”

Obama briefly touched on other key agenda items such as immigration reform, gun safety and energy. If they make progress on those issues, Obama predicted, “then Nancy Pelosi’s going to be speaker again pretty soon,” to the cheers of his audience.

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