WASHINGTON (AP) — House Speaker John Boehner expressed doubts Wednesday that the Republican-led House and Democratic-controlled Senate could reach agreement on a budget and avoid automatic spending cuts that could jeopardize economic growth.
In a post-State of the Union interview with The Associated Press, Boehner was also skeptical about President Barack Obama's new proposal for federally supported universal pre-school. And he showed little support for Obama's core proposals on immigration reform and gun control, including universal background checks.
But it's the economy and deficit at the top of the congressional priority list as Obama and lawmakers face looming fiscal crises confronting the nation: the deep automatic spending cuts, called a "sequester," to take effect March 1, followed by the government running out of money to fund federal agencies March 27.
Boehner, seeking to keep the government from lurching from one crisis to another, has also pressed for Washington to get back to passing regular budgets. But he expressed pessimism about whether that was possible given the deep divisions on Capitol Hill.
"It's hard to imagine that you could reconcile what the House and Senate pass, but at some point, in some manner, it almost has to happen if we're going to deal with our long-term spending problem," Boehner said.
The Ohio Republican also reiterated his opposition to letting the sequester take effect, and served up a reality check to members of his caucus who say publicly that they would be willing to let the $85 billion in across-the-board cuts take effect on March 1.
"None of them have ever lived under a sequester. For that matter, neither have I," Boehner said. "This is going to be a little bleak around here when this actually happens and people actually have to make decisions."
The president wants to put off the sequester through a combination of targets spending cuts and increased tax revenue. Republicans want to offset the sequester with spending cuts alone.
Obama also used the prime-time speech Tuesday to call for action on a broad agenda that included the economy, guns, immigration, taxes and climate change. He offered new initiatives on voting, manufacturing, and research and development. He said he wanted to raise the minimum wage, lower energy use, and expand pre-school programs for all 4-year-olds.
While Obama left out key details of the pre-school program, including the cost to the federal government, administration officials said ahead of Tuesday's speech that the proposal would include the government providing financial incentives to assist states. The president is expected to campaign on the proposal Thursday in Georgia.
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