WASHINGTON — The White House is leaving the door open to using a piecemeal approach to dealing with potentially disruptive across-the-board cuts in spending despite demands from some Democrats that the president renounce the strategy.
Obama's embrace of a GOP-backed fix to FAA spending may have put an end to flight disruptions across the country, but Democrats insist it's no way to fight their war with Republicans over the sequester. But for now, the White House isn't willing to take future narrow fixes off the table.
While repeatedly saying patching up sequestration cuts with specific legislation was not the way President Obama would like to see the sequester permanently dealt with, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney wouldn't rule out a presidential signature on new laws like the one that eliminated cuts to air traffic controllers.
"You're asking me to speculate on bills that don't even exist," Carney said in response to a question from BuzzFeed. "I think that we've made clear that this is not the right way to go about it. It doesn't solve the overall problem."
There are signs that more piecemeal legislation dealing with sequestration cuts could be on the way. Groups like the American Cancer Society are urging Congress to fix the cuts to the federal funds they care about. Rep. Renee Ellmers, a conservative Republican from North Carolina, has introduced a bill that would do as the ACS asks.
Meanwhile, Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, is calling on his party to stop voting for bills that fix painful sequestration cuts. He warns that if Democrats keep fixing parts of the sequester, they'll run out of leverage to force Republicans to the bargaining table to hash out a permanent fix. Democrats and the White House would like to restore the sequestration cuts with a mixture of revenue increases and spending cuts. Republicans are opposed to raising revenue.
"We have certainly made it more difficult to stand firm going forward," Van Hollen told the Washington Post Monday, referring to the FAA fix. "But we're going to have to reclaim some lost ground here. We cannot have a situation where people just cherry-pick the sequester."
A large number of Democrats voted for the FAA fix in both houses of Congress last week, sending the bill to the president's desk with a veto-proof majority. On Capitol HIll, some Democrats grumbled that White House signals that Obama would sign the fix made it harder for them to rally Democrats to oppose it. The White House pointed to the majorities as an indication Democrats didn't want to oppose it.
Republicans viewed the FAA fix as a signal the White House and Democrats are caving on sequestration by agreeing to specific remedies for specific problems while leaving most of the cuts in place. Some critics said the focus on flight delays showed air travelers were a higher priority than the poor or other less advantaged people facing sequestration cuts.
"I think it's fair to say that about Congress," Carney said when asked about the criticism. "We do not have, independently, the power to eliminate the sequester either in piece meal fashion or in its entirety."
At the briefing Carney didn't say exactly what the White House will do if more fixes come its way — but he didn't draw a line opposing them either.