As both parties seek to find fault for the largely unwanted spending cuts set to go into effect next week, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney says it's too late to play the blame-game.
"It doesn't matter that Republicans and Democrats voted for it because the whole point was that it wasn't supposed to come to pass," Carney said on CNN's "The Situation Room."
As Congress faced a deadline in the summer of 2011 to extend the Treasury's authority to borrow money to pay the government's bills and avoid defaulting on the national debt, the White House and congressional leaders reached a deal that essentially kicked the can down the road.
Part of the agreement included a measure, known in Washington as the sequester, that would incentivize lawmakers to come up with a deficit-reduction plan or else face $1.2 trillion in government-wide spending cuts over the next decade. The first $85 billion in austerity would be felt through September 30, the end of the current fiscal year.
The idea for automatic broad-based cuts first came from the White House.
"It was simply a way of crafting policy that was so onerous, that would cause cuts that nobody liked--Republicans or Democrats-and ... it would compel Congress to compromise, come together on further deficit-reduction in a balanced way," Carney said.
Because Congress never approved a solution over the next year and a half, the cuts were supposed to hit at the start of January. But lawmakers voted as part of the deal averting the so-called fiscal cliff to defer the spending cuts by two months -- to March 1.
While House Speaker John Boehner took to the Wall Street Journal opinion page this week to place blame squarely on the White House for proposing the idea, Carney said Republicans had plenty of room to blame themselves.
During the third presidential debate last fall, Obama blamed Congress for proposing the spending cuts. But veteran Washington Post reporter and editor Bob Woodward--who literally wrote the book on the 2011 budget deal--says the president was wrong.
The cuts were the "brainchild" of Obama's then-chief of staff, Jack Lew, and White House congressional relations chief Rob Nabors, Woodward wrote in an article published online late Friday.
"Obama personally approved of the plan for Lew and Nabors to propose the sequester to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). They did so at 2:30 p.m. July 27, 2011, according to interviews with two senior White House aides who were directly involved."
Asked by CNN's Wolf Blitzer if it was a blunder to propose the idea in the first place, Carney said: "You're missing the point. Everybody was looking for a way out of this and there were different ways to do it. ... The point is, it wasn't supposed to become policy."
"People like to point out that the idea was first floated by the White House, but let's get real about what happened. On the day that Congress passed the sequester, John Boehner, speaker of the House, told CBS News that he got 98% of what he wanted and that he was very pleased," Carney said.
He added that a strong majority of Republicans in the House-174-voted for the 2011 bill.
The president has called on Congress to avert the sequester by approving a package of spending cuts and tax increases. But Carney said Republicans are not open to compromise.
"They have said they will not go along with a postponement of the sequester if it includes balance, which is preposterous position," he said.
Obama spoke on the phone with Republican leaders, including Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, but Carney did not give any further details about those conversations.
Republicans argue they compromised in the fiscal cliff bill by allowing an increase in tax rates for top earners. The real focus, they say, should be on the spending side of the equation, rather than revenues.
"Taxes are off the table," Sen. John Barrasso said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union."
"The American people need to know tax cuts are off the table and the Republican Party is not in any way going to trade spending cuts for a tax increase."
The senator said there are "much better ways to do these budget cuts," though he did not mention specific proposals.