NEW: Defense Secretary Panetta says political dysfunction threatens security
President Obama talks up job creation at a North Carolina plant
House Speaker Boehner says the Senate must act first on pending budget cuts
The State of the Union address and GOP response portend more political division
Keeping up pressure on congressional Republicans after his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama launched three days of campaign-style speeches on Wednesday with a visit to a North Carolina manufacturing plant that he said epitomized his proposals for job creation.
Obama toured the Linamar Corporation plant in Asheville before telling workers that Congress should pass his proposals laid out in Tuesday night’s speech that call for more job training and ending tax subsidies that reward sending jobs overseas.
“We’ve got to stop with some of the politics we see in Washington sometimes that focuses on who’s up and who’s down,” he said.
In all ways, the president appears to be “up” after a well-received annual address that continued to define the political and ideological divide with Republicans over the role and size of government, as well as how to reduce chronic federal deficits and rising debt.
Congressional Republicans, meanwhile, seem “down” as the Washington debate focuses on impending budget cuts mandated by a past agreement with Democrats and the White House to raise the federal debt ceiling.
In the GOP response to Obama’s speech at the Capitol, conservative Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida rolled off a now-familiar list of criticisms of the president’s approach while repeatedly referring to Republican proposals rejected by Democrats.
For both sides, the messaging sounded similar to last year’s election campaign in which Obama won the White House for a second term and Democrats strengthened their Senate majority while narrowing the GOP advantage in the House.
After the November vote, Republicans were forced to concede on one of their most steadfast issues by agreeing to higher tax rates on top income earners as part of a January deal to avoid some of the harshest impacts of the so-called fiscal cliff.
The agreement put off action on mandatory budget cuts, which are set to take effect March 1. While Obama has called for averting them with deficit-reduction steps that would include more tax revenue and spending cuts, Republicans reject new tax revenue increases.
Speaker John Boehner noted Wednesday the House passed bills last year to prevent the cuts – known in Washington jargon as sequestration – from affecting the military, but Senate Democrats never acted.
“It’s time for the Senate to do its job,” he told reporters in criticizing the cuts totaling an estimated $85 billion in 2013 and roughly $1 trillion over the next decade.
Boehner characterized sequestration as a meat ax approach that would reduce military readiness and cause other problems.
He was expected to send a letter on Wednesday to all House members telling them to prepare for the impact of cuts, which will force all legislators, committees and administrative offices to slash their budgets.
“We’re prepared to deal with it and I would hope that it wouldn’t happen,” Boehner said.
The Pentagon would be expected to absorb about half the cuts, but other agencies are weighing in with their concerns.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano warned in a letter to a key congressional Democrat that the planned cuts would reduce staffing for border patrol and aviation security as well as disaster response.
Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Wednesday that Congress needs to put aside party and ideological divisions that he called “the greatest concern I have for our national security.”
“We need to find solutions,” Panetta told his final Pentagon news briefing. “We can’t just sit here and bitch; we can’t just sit here and complain; we can’t just sit here and blame others; we can’t just sit here and point fingers at each other; we can’t just sit here and try to get sound bytes; we can’t just sit here and try to make points, political points.”