WASHINGTON — With the sequester deadline looming, President Barack Obama Tuesday urged the House of Representatives to approve a balanced, short-term deal that would avoid severe budget cuts.
Obama said the $85 billion cuts set to take effect March 1 – known as sequestration — pose a severe threat to the nation’s economy, job creation, education and defense readiness. He called on majority House Republicans to back a plan proposed by Senate Democrats that covers the sequester pinch with more tax money while also accepting some budget cuts.
House Republicans reject any tax revenue increases, setting up the latest in a series of spending showdowns Obama has taken on with Congress during his time in office.
“People will lose their jobs,” Obama said, predicting an uptick in the unemployment rate if a deal isn’t
The sequester was enacted during the bitter 2011 debt ceiling negotiations, when the ceiling was raised in return for $1.2 trillion in spending cuts. Without an agreement on that plan, across-the-board budget cuts will take effect a week from this Friday.
Surrounded by uniformed police officers and other emergency responders, Obama dismissed GOP solutions, which he said don’t ask enough of America’s wealthiest citizens and corporations. Without a stop-gap deal, he said thousands of teachers could be laid off, fewer firefighters or police would be on the streets and border security would be put at risk.
“This is not an abstraction,” Obama said in an event at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. “There are people whose livelihoods are at stake. The burden is all on the first responders, or seniors or middle class families.”
A report by the Congressional Budget Office has estimated that sequestration cuts could prevent the creation of up to 750,000 jobs this year.
With Congress in recess following the Presidents Day holiday, limited bargaining time remains with the automatic cuts looming.
In response to the president’s remarks, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said his party has offered “common sense cuts,” and that Obama needs to target inefficient government programs instead of raising taxes on millionaires and large corporations.
“Just last month, the president got his higher taxes on the wealthy, and he’s already back for more,” Boehner said in a statement released after the president’s remarks, referring to the “fiscal cliff” deal made at the end of 2012.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., also dismissed the president’s remarks in a statement, saying the event showed that Obama “still prefers campaign events to common sense, bipartisan action.”
“Surely the President won’t cut funds to first responders when just last year Washington handed out an estimated $115 billion in payments to individuals who weren’t even eligible to receive them, or at a time when 11 different government agencies are funding 90 different green energy programs,” McConnell said in a statement. “That would be a terrible and entirely unnecessary choice by a president who claims to want bipartisan reform.”
At a briefing held shortly after the president’s remarks, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said outside economists agreed that the spending cuts would have “disastrous” effects.
“We should not let our economy be held hostage by a reckless partisan agenda,” Carney said. “The president’s door is open. We need balance, and Republicans haven’t shown a willingness to do that.”