Obama Challenges Congress on Its Refusal to End Sequester

President Barack Obama chided Congress Tuesday for failing first to prevent, and now to stop, the sequester and defended his decision to sign a legislative fix carved for the Federal Aviation Administration to prevent air traffic delays.

But Obama said the failure to head off the sequester and Senate defeat of his endorsed gun control measures, which have given him little to show for the first 100 days of his second term, do not mean important things won’t get done.

Obama referenced Mark Twain, saying that “rumors of my demise may be a little exaggerated at this point.” He later added that “I’m actually confident that there are a range of things that we’re going to be able to get done,” specifically mentioning immigration.

Obama said it’s not his job to make Congress work. “You seem to suggest that somehow these folks over there have no responsibilities, and that my job is to somehow get them to behave,” Obama told ABC’s Jonathan Karl. “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.”

“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’d be pain now — which they would try to blame on me,” he said.

Obama noted the FAA fix would take money from airport construction when U.S. airports are ranked far below their foreign counterparts. “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,” Obama said.

The president said he still hopes to reach a broader budget deal, and said the only thing standing in the way is Republicans refusing to close tax loopholes for the wealthy. But he doesn’t seem inclined to play hardball to force the GOP to the table.

“I cannot force Republicans to embrace those common-sense solutions. I can urge them to. I can put pressure on them. I can, you know, rally the American people around those — you know, those common-sense solutions. But ultimately they, themselves, are going to have to say, ‘We want to do the right thing,’” he said.

Obama said that he’s trying to find the right “permission structure” that would let Republicans support a deal despite worries about party primaries. “But it’s gonna take some time,” he said.

Obama also warned that he would not support a House Republican immigration bill if it does not meet his criteria, including a path to citizenship.

“Is it making the border safer? Is it dealing with employers and how they work with — with the governments to make sure that people are not being taken advantage of or taking advantage of the system? Are we improving our legal immigration system? And are we creating a pathway for citizenship for the 11 million or so who are undocumented in this country?” the president asked. “If they do not meet those criteria ... I will not support such a bill.”

On health care, Obama was asked about Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus’ comment that the implementation of the law is a “train wreck.”

Obama said there will be bumps in the road for any new program. “I think that any time you’re implementing something big, there’s gonna be people who are nervous, anxious about ‘is it gonna get done’ until it’s actually done,” he said.

But most people don’t have anything to worry about, Obama said. “For the average American out there, for the 85 and 90 percent of Americans who already have health insurance, this thing’s already happened. And their only impact is that their insurance is stronger, better and more secure than it was before. Full stop. That’s it. They don’t have to worry about anything else.”

On Syria, the president offered little clarity on his supposed “red line” on Syria’s use of chemical weapons. He repeated that such use would be a “game changer” but would not commit to military action, merely that he would have to “rethink” his options.

The president also recommitted to trying to close the Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, prison.

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