Courtesy of NewsMax
President Barack Obama caught Capitol Hill by surprise Monday night with his comment that automatic spending cuts looming in January “will not happen,” kindling hope among Democrats but doubt among Republicans that he has a viable plan to replace them.
In the third debate against Republican Mitt Romney, Obama did not say whether he had a specific plan in mind to avoid the $109 billion in cuts due to start on Jan. 2 or if he merely was hopeful Congress would act. The across-the-board reductions, known as a sequester, are to be divided equally between defense and non-defense programs.
Democrats said the comment showed Obama’s determination to push an alternative deficit-reduction plan in the post-election session of Congress to replace the automatic cuts, even if he is not ready to reveal details.
“The president made it very clear. It’s not going to occur, he’s not going to let it occur,” said Rep. Gerald Connolly, a Democrat whose northern Virginia district is home to thousands of defense and other government workers. “That was very heartening to my constituents and the voters in Virginia.”
Republicans put little credence in Obama’s debate vow, saying he never has offered them a plan to avoid the cuts, which were set in motion by last year’s debt limit deal.
A spokesman for Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said: “We were all surprised by the president saying that the sequester ‘will not happen,’ given that he still hasn’t presented a plan to make sure it ‘will not happen.’”
“While the Republican-led House has already taken action, Democrats in the Senate haven’t even passed a budget, and the president has presented no plan to prevent the defense cuts.”
David Plouffe, White House senior adviser, was quoted suggesting to reporters immediately after the debate that Obama was merely expressing the same desire as everyone else.
“No one wants it to happen. … No one thinks it should happen,” Plouffe said.
Some analysts were taking the president’s comment quite seriously.
Greg Valliere, of Potomac Research Group, called it “the most significant statement in last night’s debate: The president said a budget sequester ‘will not happen.’ This is the clearest indication yet that the fiscal cliff may be finessed or delayed.”
The cuts are part of the so-called “fiscal cliff” of automatic spending reductions, known as a “sequester,” and tax increases scheduled for the end of the year. The Congressional Budget Office has said the combination could lead to a recession.
A spokesman for Speaker of the House John Boehner, said, “If the sequester isn’t going to happen, as he says, will the president finally offer a plan to solve the problem?”
Republicans and Democrats alike oppose the trigger of the large spending cuts, in part because they land on almost every account in military and non-military programs, depriving Congress of the ability to think through the choices.
In Monday’s debate, Obama made the remark almost in passing as part of his response to criticism from Romney about his defense spending plans and charges that the sequestration was his administration’s idea in the first place.
“First of all, the sequester is not something that I’ve proposed,” he said. “It is something that Congress has proposed. It will not happen.”