Obama phones GOP leaders on 'sequester'

Obama phones GOP leaders on 'sequester'

WASHINGTON, Feb. 22 (UPI) –
President Barack Obama made his first call to Republican leaders in weeks to discuss $85 billion in looming U.S. spending cuts, the White House said.

Obama spoke with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, about the so-called sequester, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.

Obama “had good conversations, but I have no further readout of those calls for you,” he said.

Spokesmen for Boehner and McConnell gave no details either.

A Boehner aide told CBS News “the last substantive conversation” Boehner had with Obama was Dec. 28, just before a New Year’s Eve “fiscal cliff” deal. A McConnell spokesman said Obama’s last outreach before Thursday was New Year’s Eve.

Republicans interpreted the latest outreach as a public relations stunt and not a new basis for negotiation, CBS News said.

The New York Times said the GOP interpretation was slightly different — aimed equally at fending off criticism for not reaching out sooner and at trying to open a new dialogue.

The sequester is the Washington term for across-the-board federal domestic and military spending cuts set to be automatically triggered in a week and run through September unless Congress intervenes.

The cuts — established as part of the 2011 deal to raise the federal debt limit — represent a small slice of the government’s annual $3.5 trillion budget, and big-ticket programs such as Social Security and Medicare benefits are exempt from them.

The cuts are expected to be phased in gradually over several months.

Congress is on a winter recess and is to return next week, just days before the March 1 deadline — which was already moved once, at the start of the year, to give Republicans and Democrats additional time to negotiate.

Obama has insisted he would not have a standoff and dueling news conferences with Republicans over the sequester as he did in 2011 over shutting down the government and raising the nation’s borrowing power and in December over the “fiscal cliff,” when every tax cut signed by President George W. Bush was to expire.

The Times pointed out Friday that with Obama’s new attitude, the budget debate is taking place alongside immigration and gun-safety discussions, rather than overtaking them.

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