The unusual action came as much of Washington plotted strategy for managing the deep cuts, known as sequestration, and for winning the political battle over them.
President Obama flew to Newport News to highlight the effect the reductions would have on the defense industry, saying they would harm a facility that builds nuclear submarines. Other top administration officials joined in, with Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. bluntly declaring in a speech, “The American people are going to be less safe.”
Politically, the president seemed to be trying to cause a split between Republican lawmakers who are set against raising taxes as part of a compromise to avoid the spending cuts and those who are open to the idea.
Obama heralded Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Va.) for endorsing an overhaul of the tax code that raises new revenue, bringing him to Newport News on Air Force One. He also met later in the day with Republican Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) and John McCain (Ariz.), who have signaled that they would be open to more taxes as part of a broader compromise that also overhauled entitlements.
But GOP leaders showed no such interest Tuesday. House Speaker John A. Boehner (Ohio) lashed out at Obama, saying he was exploiting members of the armed services to achieve political aims.
“I don’t think the president’s focused on trying to find a solution to the sequester,” he said at a news conference. “The president has been traveling all over the country and today [is] going down to Newport News in order to use our military men and women as a prop in yet another campaign rally to support his tax hikes.”
With the sequester all but certain to begin Friday, Republicans and Democrats were positioning for a longer brawl that would last until at least late March, when a stopgap measure that funds the government expires.
The administration has acknowledged that the full brunt of the sequester wouldn’t be felt until near then, and both sides are looking to that battle to determine whether the cuts remain — and whether the government shuts down.
Senate Democrats are planning to advance a proposal before Friday that would halt much of the across-the-board reductions through the end of the year and replace them with a combination of other cuts and tax increases, including a new minimum tax rate for those making more than $5 million a year. It is not expected to get the 60 votes necessary to overcome a Republican filibuster.
Republicans are divided about their strategy. Senate Republicans had planned to push for a bill that would preserve the $85 billion in cuts for this fiscal year but give the administration greater flexibility in how to manage them.