NEWPORT NEWS, Va. - President Obama today took aim at skeptics of his dire warnings about the sequester, insisting the "meat-cleaver" approach to deficit reduction will harm the military, defense contractors, suppliers and their families the most if it hits in two days.
"I'm not interested in spin. I'm not interested in playing a blame game. At this point, all I'm interested in is just solving problems," Obama told a crowd of workers inside a submarine assembly facility at Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia.
"I want us to be able to look back five years from now, 10 years from now, and say we took care of our business and we put an end to some of these games that maybe, I guess, are entertaining for some but are hurting too many people," he said, referring to congressional Republicans.
Republican leaders have accused the president of exaggerating the impacts of the automatic cuts, and of spending more time sounding the alarm than trying to work with members of Congress to reach a deal. The sticking point remains taxes, with neither side showing any willingness to compromise on a new balance of spending cuts and revenue increases to avert the sequester.
"Armageddon or tax hikes," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., describing Obama's frame for the debate.
Said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, "For 16 months, the president's been traveling all over the country holding rallies instead of sitting down with Senate leaders in order to try to forge an agreement over there in order to move the bill."
Obama today disavowed politics in his posturing. But even as he claimed an openness to negotiation and compromise with Republicans, he signaled an unwillingness to budge on new revenue as part of any sequester-averting deal.
"There are too many Republicans in Congress right now who refuse to compromise even an inch when it comes to closing tax loopholes and special interest tax breaks. And that's what holding things up right now," he said. "Keep in mind, nobody's asking them to raise income tax rates. All we're asking is to consider closing tax loopholes and deductions that the speaker of the House, John Boehner, said he was willing to do just a few months ago.
"I don't think that's too much to ask. I do not think that is partisan. The majority of the American people agree with me," Obama said, drawing the first round of applause from a politically mixed crowd. "The majority of Newport News agrees with me."
Several shipbuilders interviewed by ABC News said, regardless of their political allegiances, they believe both sides should come together to avoid the cuts.
"This is job security for us and people are anxious about it," said pipefitter Curt Babcock. "We're always wondering: Are we going to get another contract? … Right now, it seems as if we're in limbo."
Obama said delayed or cancelled contracts for new ships were part of the potential pain facing military communities, especially in Virginia. He warned that uncertainty created by the partisan budget battle could harm thousands of parts suppliers, delay already-approved repair and construction projects for Navy vessels and, ultimately, stunt military readiness - all while putting tens of thousands of jobs at risk. Roughly half the automatic cuts will hit the Pentagon budget.
"That's a pretty bad name, 'sequester,' but the effects are even worse than the name," Obama said.
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