February 22nd, 2013
08:00 PM ET
10 years ago

Carney: Spending cuts were never supposed to happen

(CNN) - As both parties seek to find fault for the largely unwanted spending cuts set to go into effect next week, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney says it's too late to play the blame-game.

"It doesn't matter that Republicans and Democrats voted for it because the whole point was that it wasn't supposed to come to pass," Carney said on CNN's "The Situation Room."

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As Congress faced a deadline in the summer of 2011 to extend the Treasury's authority to borrow money to pay the government's bills and avoid defaulting on the national debt, the White House and congressional leaders reached a deal that essentially kicked the can down the road.

Part of the agreement included a measure, known in Washington as the sequester, that would incentivize lawmakers to come up with a deficit-reduction plan or else face $1.2 trillion in government-wide spending cuts over the next decade. The first $85 billion in austerity would be felt through September 30, the end of the current fiscal year.

The idea for automatic broad-based cuts first came from the White House.

"It was simply a way of crafting policy that was so onerous, that would cause cuts that nobody liked–Republicans or Democrats-and ... it would compel Congress to compromise, come together on further deficit-reduction in a balanced way," Carney said.

Because Congress never approved a solution over the next year and a half, the cuts were supposed to hit at the start of January. But lawmakers voted as part of the deal averting the so-called fiscal cliff to defer the spending cuts by two months – to March 1.

While House Speaker John Boehner took to the Wall Street Journal opinion page this week to place blame squarely on the White House for proposing the idea, Carney said Republicans had plenty of room to blame themselves.

During the third presidential debate last fall, Obama blamed Congress for proposing the spending cuts. But veteran Washington Post reporter and editor Bob Woodward–who literally wrote the book on the 2011 budget deal–says the president was wrong.

The cuts were the "brainchild" of Obama's then-chief of staff, Jack Lew, and White House congressional relations chief Rob Nabors, Woodward wrote in an article published online late Friday.

"Obama personally approved of the plan for Lew and Nabors to propose the sequester to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). They did so at 2:30 p.m. July 27, 2011, according to interviews with two senior White House aides who were directly involved."

Asked by CNN's Wolf Blitzer if it was a blunder to propose the idea in the first place, Carney said: "You're missing the point. Everybody was looking for a way out of this and there were different ways to do it. ... The point is, it wasn't supposed to become policy."

"People like to point out that the idea was first floated by the White House, but let's get real about what happened. On the day that Congress passed the sequester, John Boehner, speaker of the House, told CBS News that he got 98% of what he wanted and that he was very pleased," Carney said.

He added that a strong majority of Republicans in the House-174-voted for the 2011 bill.

The president has called on Congress to avert the sequester by approving a package of spending cuts and tax increases. But Carney said Republicans are not open to compromise.

"They have said they will not go along with a postponement of the sequester if it includes balance, which is preposterous position," he said.

Obama spoke on the phone with Republican leaders, including Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, but Carney did not give any further details about those conversations.

Republicans argue they compromised in the fiscal cliff bill by allowing an increase in tax rates for top earners. The real focus, they say, should be on the spending side of the equation, rather than revenues.

"Taxes are off the table," Sen. John Barrasso said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union."
"The American people need to know tax cuts are off the table and the Republican Party is not in any way going to trade spending cuts for a tax increase."

The senator said there are "much better ways to do these budget cuts," though he did not mention specific proposals.

Filed under: Jay Carney • The Situation Room
soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. Ray E. (Georgia)

    The best laid plans of mice and men.

    February 22, 2013 08:17 pm at 8:17 pm |
  2. MaryM

    The sequester was designed to be so stupid and painful that it would compel the Congress to come up with a reasonable alternative. But it was apparently not painful enough to compel the two parties to work together, despite the shared goal of some $4 trillion in debt reduction. And now, faced with the pain that both parties voted for nobody wants

    February 22, 2013 08:23 pm at 8:23 pm |
  3. jpmichigan

    The White House (Obama, Jack Lew and others) purposed the sequester to get what they wanted, but it wasn't suppose to happen in reality. Some thing here isn't just right. Some one acted Stupidly and now they cry foul for what was not supposed to happen , just might happen. White House, Obama, Jack Lew and Harry Reid need to take ownership of this stupid idea of sequester, that wasn't supposed to happen. As usual then place blame on others for the stupidity of these individuals.

    February 22, 2013 08:26 pm at 8:26 pm |
  4. joepa14221

    When will the president ever propose a spending cut that is actual not a growth cut.

    February 22, 2013 09:00 pm at 9:00 pm |
  5. Randy, San Francisco

    Republican/Tea Party is showing its true colors. They rather see the National Defense budget cut than the weathiest 1% pay their fair share of taxes, even if it jeopardizes military readiness.

    February 22, 2013 09:06 pm at 9:06 pm |
  6. Donna

    OK, so let me get this right. Obama proposes something, gets the Democrat controlled Senate to pass it then signs it into law, all the while not expecting it to happen and to carry out the law? This is down right scary in the magnitude of Obama's cluelessness and incompetence.

    The Republican House has passed TWO bills as alternatives, yet the Democrat controlled Senate refuses to vote on them. It has become painfully clear the Democrats don't have a clue on how to govern this country and work with others to get things done. They expect the Republicans to sit there and rubber stamp everything they want. Looks like they want the North Korean style of government.

    February 22, 2013 11:20 pm at 11:20 pm |
  7. @RI_Roger

    Does Jay Carney think the American people are fouls and stupid? There is not an experienced Executive that would propose an idea without weighing the risk that it could come to realization or would have a "back-up" plan to mitigate it. Jay Carney is trying to distance the President from a poor executive decision so that the American people don’t see his true lack of executive experience.

    February 23, 2013 07:12 am at 7:12 am |
  8. Jerry

    Duh... The Divider-in-Chief has really trained Carney well in the ART of LYING. Wow! Carney is almost as good as the MAN HIMSELF. He (Carney) has also learned to make it as he goes along.

    Well done Carney, well done...

    February 23, 2013 08:09 am at 8:09 am |
  9. HenryMiller

    "Carney: Spending cuts were never supposed to happen"

    Of course not! The spendthrift jerks in Washington have never seriously considered doing anything useful to keep the country from going bankrupt. All they've ever intended to do was pass the ever-devalued buck on to their successors.

    February 23, 2013 09:50 am at 9:50 am |
  10. Disgusted

    Yes they were. This was Obama's idea, remember? This is exactly what he wants.

    February 23, 2013 10:20 am at 10:20 am |
  11. Loyal Civil Servant

    Here in Texas we're organizing federal workers to target those Republicans who are still obstructing progress, still holding us hostage, and still refuse to take any action to prevent the sequester. We have been vilified by Republicans while we continue to do our jobs – just as America ask us to do. Now our families stand to lose 20% of our income because politicians can't do their job. Our first target is in San Antonio where Lamar Smith has played lap-dog for the rich too long – ignoring the huge number of civil service workers in his district. He will energize our group to throw him out of office. Others will also get targeted – like Pete Sessions in the Dallas area.

    February 23, 2013 10:47 am at 10:47 am |