House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said he was 'absolutely'… (Jewel Samud / AFP/Getty…)
WASHINGTON — Signaling a cease-fire of sorts in Washington's bitter budget wars, Republican leaders in Congress and a senior White House official expressed optimism Sunday that they can reach a deal to avoid adding a painful government shutdown this month to the deep budget cuts that just began.
“I’m hopeful that the House and Senate will be able to work through this,” House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” He said he was “absolutely” committed to keeping the government running.
President Obama’s top economic aide, Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council, said on the same program that the government will continue operating if Republicans keep their promises to extend the 2013 budget before the current spending bill expires on March 27.
“The president doesn’t believe in manufacturing another crisis,” Sperling said.
Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also sought to downplay the projected economic impact of the $85 billion in spending cuts that began Friday under the so-called sequester, and said they will not consider raising taxes on the wealthy, as the White House wants, to provide new revenue.
McConnell said the budget cuts are “modest” given the nation’s debt problem. “By any objective standard, cutting 2.4% out of $3.6 trillion is certainly something we can do,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
The impact of the budget cuts will vary widely across the federal government because some reductions will be delayed until later in the year, and major entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare are exempt, as are military salaries.
Boehner said the indiscriminate reductions were “not the smartest way to cut.” But he added, “I don’t know whether it’s going to hurt the economy or not.” He suggested the White House has exaggerated the likely impact for political gain.
Sperling denied that the Obama administration was hyping what he called the “harsh, devastating” impact of the across-the-board cuts. He said independent economists agreed the cuts would cost 750,000 jobs and reduce the nation’s economic growth by 0.6 percentage points this year.
Obama has rejected Republican offers to give him flexibility to choose which programs to cut. “It’s like telling someone you can cut off three of your fingers, but you can have the flexibility to choose which ones you want to cut off,” Sperling said on ABC’s “This Week.”
Obama phoned several Republicans and Democrats in Congress on Saturday in hopes of finding bipartisan support to forestall some of the cuts, Sperling said. A White House spokeswoman on Sunday would not identify who the president called.
But Boehner and McConnell, who met with Obama at the White House on Friday, said Republicans would not support new tax increases to offset the spending cuts.
“So far, I haven't heard a single Senate Republican say they'd be willing to raise a dime in taxes to turn off the sequester,” McConnell said.
But Sperling said the White House hoped Republicans would compromise once the impact of the spending cuts is felt across the country.
“You can’t cut $42 billion from defense in seven months and not hurt jobs, veterans … you’re going to hurt a lot of people.” Sperling said. “Our hope is that as more Republicans start to see this pain in their own districts, that they will chose bipartisan compromise over this absolutist position.”