Obama: ‘Flexibility’ in applying deep spending cuts won’t work

President Barack Obama declared on Tuesday that “there’s no smart way” to make the deep across-the-board spending cuts set to kick in at week’s end. His remarks effectively rejected efforts by Republicans to give him more power over where and when to apply the cuts, known in Washington as sequestration.

In a campaign-style speech in Newport News, Va., against the backdrop of a huge Navy ship’s propeller, Obama also denied he was trying to “spin” the cuts as more damaging than they actually will be. The president insisted he was not “playing the blame game”—even as he repeatedly laid responsibility for the standoff on GOP lawmakers.

Congressional Republicans have reportedly been working on legislation that would maintain the deep cuts in the sequester but give the president more leeway on what agencies to cut—effectively, a tactic to make him responsible for the results.

In his speech, Obama rejected that approach.

“Lately, some people have been saying, ‘Well, maybe we'll just give the president some flexibility. He could make the cuts the way he wants, and that way it won't be as damaging,’” Obama said.

“The problem is when you're cutting $85 billion in seven months, which represents over a 10 percent cut in the defense budget in seven months, there's no smart way to do that,” he said. “You don't want to have to choose between, let's see, do I close funding for the disabled kid or the poor kid? Do I close this Navy shipyard or some other one?”

Obama and Republicans on Capitol Hill have been waging a war of words over the automatic spending cuts that Congress passed and Obama signed into law. The White House has repeatedly warned that the reductions will hurt the slow economic recovery and cost teachers, police and firefighters their jobs. Republicans have accused the president of hyping the potential damage—even as polls show the public would blame them more than Obama for any pain.

“I'm not interested in spin; I'm not interested in playing a blame game,” Obama said to applause. “At this point, all I'm interested in is just solving problems.”

Oh? Here’s Obama in another section of the speech:

“I just have to be honest with you: 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,” he said. “And that's what's holding things up right now.”

Obama has called for replacing sequestration with a blend of spending cuts and tax increases, coupled with a package of infrastructure investments to repair roads and bridges. Republicans (especially House leaders) have refused to consider any new tax hikes. Public opinion polls suggest Americans tend to side with the president in seeking what he calls a “balanced approach.”