Government contractors in our area have been watching Capitol Hill closely as the end of the year approaches. Deep spending cuts called sequesters are set to take effect in January if Congress doesn't intervene. In Monday Night's Presidential debate, President Obama suggested that these cuts would be averted. Alex Bolton, senior staff writer for The Hill newspaper discusses the possibilities.
What do you make of the President's comments?
"My take is that he wants to get the issue of sequestration off the table. He doesn't want that to be one of the topics of the campaign. The question now is does this mean that President Obama is ready to strike a 'grand bargain' to reduce the deficit. It's seen as the only real solution to averting these spending cuts. Some of his liberal allies — labor unions and liberal groups that are working around the country to turn out liberal voters — are worried that President Obama is indeed leaning towards striking a deal with Republicans that would reduce entitlement payments and benefits for Medicare and Social Security as part of a broader agreement to extend the Bush-era tax rates for middle income people and avert these automatic spending cuts. The White House after the debate tried to walk back the statement made by the President."
Overall, how are Democrats and Republicans reacting?
"Democrats say that the President's statement at the debate changes nothing. Sequestration was never intended to take effect — it was simply intended to goad both sides to come to a bipartisan agreement to reduce the deficit. Republicans, however, say that this is a change of position... Sen. John McCain said he was shocked. He attacked the President, saying it showed arrogance and hubris for the President to make a declaration like that when it takes an agreement from Congressional Republicans to turn off these spending cuts."
What else do we know about the status of those talks moving forward?
"I spoke to a senior Republicans Senate aide this afternoon, and he said there are no talks between Republican leadership and the President. So, while Obama last night said the automatic cuts would not happen, that is not based on secret talks with Republican leaders. What is happening are talks amongst a bipartisan group of senators lead by Mark Warner of Virginia that would attempt to replace these automatic cuts with a broader deficit deal. But these talks have been going on for months, and there have yet to be any concrete developments or publicly announced agreements. Many people are skeptical that there will be an agreement. Grover Norquist, a conservative strategist I spoke to today, says there is no way that agreement is going to happen. He says he is assured that John Boehner, House Majority Leader, will not agree to any tax increases, which would be necessary to make a deal."