Transcript: President Obama on Congress & the sequester – April 30, 2013 press conference
Transcript of remarks by President Barack Obama on Congress and replacing the sequester cuts. The press conference was held on April 30, 2013:
Mr. President, you are a hundred days into your second term. On the gun bill, you put, it seems, everything into it to try to get it passed. Obviously, it didn’t. Congress has ignored your efforts to try to get them to undo these sequester cuts. There’s even a bill that you threatened to veto that got 92 Democrats in the House voting yes. So my question to you is do you still have the juice to get the rest of your agenda through this Congress?
President Barack Obama:
If you put it that way, Jonathan — (laughter) — maybe I should just pack up and go home. Golly.
I think it’s a little — as Mark Twain said, rumors of my demise may be a little exaggerated at this point.
We understand that we’re in a divided government right now. The Republicans control the House of Representatives. In the Senate, this habit of requiring 60 votes for even the most modest piece of legislation has gummed up the works there. And I think it comes as no surprise not even to the American people, but even members of Congress themselves that right now things are pretty dysfunctional up on Capitol Hill.
Despite that, I’m actually confident that there are a range of things that we’re going to be able to get done. I feel confident that the bipartisan work that’s been done on immigration reform will result in a bill that passes the Senate, passes the House, and gets on my desk. And that’s going to be a historic achievement. And I’ve been very complimentary of the efforts of both Republicans and Democrats in those efforts.
It is true that the sequester is in place right now. It’s damaging our economy. It’s hurting our people. And we need to lift it. What’s clear is, is that the only way we’re going to lift it is if we do a bigger deal that meets the test of lowering our deficit and growing our economy at the same time. And that’s going to require some compromises on the part of both Democrats and Republicans.
I’ve had some good conversations with Republican senators so far. Those conversations are continuing. I think there’s a genuine desire on many of their parts to move past not only sequester but Washington dysfunction. Whether we can get it done or not, we’ll see.
But I think the sequester is a good example — or this recent FAA issue is a good example. You will recall that even as recently as my campaign, Republicans we’re saying, sequester is terrible, this is a disaster, it’s going to ruin our military, it’s going to be disastrous for the economy — we’ve got to do something about it. Then, when it was determined that doing something about it might mean that we close some tax loopholes for the wealthy and the well-connected, suddenly, well, you know what, we’ll take the sequester. And the notion was somehow that we had exaggerated the effects of the sequester — remember? The President is crying wolf. He’s Chicken Little. The sequester — no problem.
And then in rapid succession, suddenly White House tours — this is terrible! How can we let that happen? Meat inspectors — we’ve got to fix that. And, most recently, what are we going to do about potential delays at airports?
So despite the fact that a lot of members of Congress were suggesting that somehow the sequester was a victory for them and this wouldn’t hurt the economy, what we now know is what I warned earlier, what Jay stood up here and warned repeatedly, is happening. It’s slowed our growth. It’s resulting in people being thrown out of work. And it’s hurting folks all across the country.
And the fact that Congress responded to the short-term problem of flight delays by giving us the option of shifting money that’s designed to repair and improve airports over the long term to fix the short-term problem — well, that’s not a solution. And essentially what we’ve done is we’ve said, in order to avoid delays this summer, we’re going to ensure delays for the next two or three decades.
Why’d you go along with it?
President Barack Obama:
Hold on a second.
So the alternative, of course, is either to go ahead and impose a whole bunch of delays on passengers now — which also does not fix the problem — or the third alternative is to actually fix the problem by coming up with a broader, larger deal.
But, Jonathon, you seem to suggest that somehow these folks over there have no responsibilities and that my job is to somehow get them to behave. That’s their job. They’re elected — members of Congress are elected in order to do what’s right for their constituencies and for the American people.
So if, in fact, they are seriously concerned about passenger convenience and safety, then they shouldn’t just be thinking about tomorrow or next week or the week after that; they should be thinking about what’s going to happen five years from now, 10 years from now, or 15 years from now. The only way to do that is for them to engage with me on coming up with a broader deal. And that’s exactly what I’m trying to do — is to continue to talk to them about are there ways for us to fix this.
Frankly, I don’t think that if I were to veto, for example, this FAA bill, that that somehow would lead to the broader fix. It just means that there would be pain now, which they would try to blame on me, as opposed to pain five years from now. But either way, the problem is not getting fixed.
The only way the problem does get fixed is if both parties sit down and they say: How are we going to make sure that we’re reducing our deficit sensibly? How are we making sure that we’re investing in things like rebuilding our airports and our roads and our bridges, and investing in early childhood education, basic research — all the things that are going to help us grow? And that’s what the American people want.
Just one interesting statistic when it comes to airports. There was a recent survey of the top airports in the country — in the world, and there was not a single U.S. airport that came in the top 25. Not one. Not one U.S. airport was considered by the experts and consumers who use these airports to be in the top 25 in the world. I think Cincinnati Airport came in around 30th.
What does that say about our long-term competitiveness and future? And so when folks say, well, there was some money in the FAA to deal with these furloughs — well, yeah, the money is this pool of funds that are supposed to try to upgrade our airports so we don’t rank in the bottom of industrialized countries when it comes to our infrastructure.
And that’s what we’re doing — we’re using our seed corn short term. And the only reason we’re doing it is because right now we’ve got folks who are unwilling to make some simple changes to our tax code, for example, to close loopholes that aren’t adding to our competitiveness and aren’t helping middle-class families.
So that’s a long way of answering your question, but the point is that there are common-sense solutions to our problems right now. I cannot force Republicans to embrace those common-sense solutions. I can urge them to. I can put pressure on them. I can rally the American people around those common-sense solutions. But ultimately, they, themselves, are going to have to say, we want to do the right thing.
And I think there are members certainly in the Senate right now, and I suspect members in the House as well, who understand that deep down. But they’re worried about their politics. It’s tough. Their base thinks that compromise with me is somehow a betrayal. They’re worried about primaries. And I understand all that. And we’re going to try to do everything we can to create a permission structure for them to be able to do what’s going to be best for the country. But it’s going to take some time.
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