Obama: budget cuts send joke writers packing

US President Barack Obama took a satirical swipe at the political drama over an $85 billion austerity drive clutching at the US economy Saturday, at a cozy dinner for the Washington establishment.

Obama attended the 128th Gridiron Club banquet, a week after the cuts, known as the sequester, came into force when he and Republicans failed to agree a deficit cutting deal as political acrimony haunts the US capital.

"My joke writers have been placed on furlough," Obama joked to the exclusive off-camera, white tie gathering of top Washington journalists, cabinet members, lawmakers and military brass.

"There is one thing in Washington that didn't get cut: the length of this dinner," Obama said. "Yet more proof that the sequester makes no sense."

The president also took a good natured jab at America's new secretary of state John Kerry, who is seeking to get out from the shadow of the former top US diplomat Hillary Clinton.

"Let's face it, Hillary is a tough act to follow -- frankly, though, I think it's time for him to stop showing up at work in pant suits. It's a disturbing image. I don't know where he buys them. He's a tall guy."

Obama also ribbed rising star Senator Marco Rubio, now famous for taking an undignified gulp of water as he delivered the Republican response to the president's State of the Union address.

"Of course, as I begin my second term, our country is still facing enormous challenges," Obama said, before taking a long draw on a glass of water.

"That, Marco Rubio, is how you take a sip of water," Obama said.

Obama also skewered Vice President Joe Biden, as rumors swirl that despite hitting 70, the veteran politician is considering a run at the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016.

"It's no secret that my vice president is still ambitious. But let's face it, his age is an issue. Just the other day I had to take Joe aside and say, Joe you are way too young to be the pope."

The dinner, which features comic skits and songs, seems more suited to the Music Hall era than the Twitter age, but provides a chance for politicians and journalists, normally at each other's throats, to poke fun at one another.

For the first time, at the traditionally off-the-record event, the club permitted a White House pool reporter to pass on the jokes to his peers.

The decision appeared to be a recognition that journalists can hardly complain at the White House limiting access to Obama if it maintains an exclusive tag on its own clubby night with Washington's political elite.

Gridiron president Charles Lewis ensured that Obama did not have the evening all his own way, poking fun at the White House's penchant for bypassing traditional media with its own high powered multimedia message machine.

"As we were walking in, I thought I heard (Obama) say ... 'so many newspaper reporters, so many interviews to turn down," Lewis said.

Active membership of the organization is limited to 65 Washington journalists.