Obama sounds cuts impasse warning
on 26/02/2013 07:43:21
Despite the urgent rhetoric, there was no indication the White House and congressional Republicans were actively negotiating a deal to avoid the $85bn in budget cuts ahead of the end-of-week deadline.
Congressional leaders have recently indicated their willingness to let the cuts take effect and stay in place for weeks, if not much longer.
"The uncertainty is already having an effect," President Obama said. "Companies are preparing lay-off notices. Families are preparing to cut back on expenses. The longer these cuts are in place, the bigger the impact will become."
The automatic cuts were designed to be so unattractive and damaging that they would force Congress and the Obama administration to find a better way to address the country's massive deficit. They were meant to take effect only if a congressional super-committee failed to come up with at least one trillion dollars in savings from benefit programmes.
Republicans insist reduced spending needs to be the focus of a deal and have rejected the president's demand to include higher taxes as part of a compromise. They say legislation passed in early January already raises taxes on the wealthiest Americans to generate an estimated 600 billion dollars for the treasury over a decade.
Mr Obama is now proposing closing tax loopholes that benefit the wealthiest Americans and corporations.
"Mr President, you got your tax increase," said House of Representatives speaker John Boehner, the top Republican in Congress. "It's time to cut spending here in Washington."
The last known conversation between Mr Obama and Republican leaders was last week and there have been no direct meetings between the parties this year.
The budget-cutting mechanism, known as sequester, could affect everything from commercial flights to classrooms to meat inspections. Domestic and defence spending alike would be trimmed, leading to temporary lay-offs for hundreds of thousands of government workers and contractors.
The White House continued laying out in stark terms what the cuts would mean for government services, dispatching homeland security secretary Janet Napolitano to warn of the implications for critical security functions.
"I don't think we can maintain the same level of security at all places around the country with sequester as without sequester," she said, adding that the impact would be "like a rolling ball. It will keep growing".
Ms Napolitano focused in particular on the impact to the border, saying her agency would be forced to lay off 5,000 patrol agents. She played down the notion that budget cuts would make the nation more vulnerable to terrorism, but said the sequester would make it "awfully, awfully tough" to minimise that risk.
Meanwhile interior secretary Ken Salazar said visiting hours would be cut at all 398 national parks, just as they prepare for an influx of spring and summer visitors.
Elsewhere in the government, defense secretary Leon Panetta has said the cuts would harm the readiness of US fighting forces. Transportation secretary Ray LaHood said travellers could see delayed flights and laid-off meat inspectors could leave plants idled.
Mr Obama will seek to build public support for his sequester offset plan today when he travels to Newport News, Virginia, a community that would be impacted by the defence cuts.
Many of the nation's governors, who are gathered in Washington for their annual meeting, voiced frustration over the impending cuts, saying Washington's inability to strike a deal had created widespread uncertainty in the economy and hampered economic recovery in their states.
"The president needs to show leadership," said Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, a Republican considered a potential 2016 presidential contender, following a meeting with Mr Obama.
"The reality is it can be done. This administration has an insatiable appetite for new revenue."
The governors, emerging from a closed-door meeting with Mr Obama yesterday, said the president had assured them the administration was pursuing solutions, but offered no assurances that officials would find a way ahead before the deadline.