President Obama and Mitch McConnell / Saul Loeb, AFP/Getty Images
President Obama will meet with congressional leaders Friday, the day that $85 billion in automatic budget cuts are set to take effect.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called the scheduled session "an opportunity for us to visit with the president about how we can all keep our commitment to reduce Washington spending."
Obama is slated to meet with McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, as well as the top two Democrats in Congress, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Midnight on Friday is the official deadline for "the sequester," the $85 billion in automatic domestic and defense cuts that has triggered the latest budget standoff between the White House and congressional Republicans.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama is looking for "a constructive discussion" with the Republicans about avoiding the sequester with a "balanced" debt reduction plan that would include budget cuts and higher taxes; the latter would come by closing tax loopholes and ending deductions that benefit the wealthy.
"What we have not seen from the Republicans is anything like the willingness to compromise inherent in the proposals that the president has put forward," Carney said.
In a speech Tuesday at a shipbuilding factory in Newport News, Va., Obama told workers that "the sequester will weaken America's economic recovery. It will weaken our military readiness. And it will weaken the basic services that the American people depend on every single day."
In calling for a "balanced" budget plan, Obama said middle class programs should not bear all the cost of reducing the national debt that now exceeds $16.5 trillion. Obama said his proposed changes to the tax code would affect only wealthy Americans.
Republicans oppose any tax hike, saying it would slow the economy and that Obama got higher tax rates as part of the fiscal cliff agreement last month. GOP members have also called on Obama to use "flexibility" in determining where to cut, so as to spare essential services.
In his statement, McConnell said spending should be the issue in tackling the debt.
"We can either secure those reductions more intelligently, or we can do it the president's way with across-the board cuts," McConnell said. "But one thing Americans simply will not accept is another tax increase to replace spending reductions we already agreed to."
In his remarks Tuesday, Obama disputed Republican claims that he has "flexibility" in deciding what to cut.
The sequester requires cuts of $85 billion over seven months, and "there's no smart way to do that," Obama said. He added that it basically boils down to deciding on whether to "close funding for the disabled kid, or the poor kid," or between "this Navy shipyard or some other one."
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