Obama, U.S. lawmakers trade blame as budget cuts deadline nears
U.S. President Barack Obama pauses while talking about sequestration in the Eisenhower Executive Office building on the White House complex in Washington on Feb. 19, 2013. (AP / Charles Dharapak)
Published Monday, February 25, 2013 6:43AM EST
Last Updated Monday, February 25, 2013 12:32PM EST
WASHINGTON -- The $85 billion in budget cuts set to hit the U.S. on Friday 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. Four days remain but no alternative is in sight, and both sides in the latest partisan battle are angrily blaming each other.
No deal means the government is forced to make drastic cuts in domestic and defence spending, a move that that threatens the fragile economic recovery from the Great Recession.
"The longer these cuts are in place, the bigger the impact will become," President Barack Obama told the nation's governors on Monday at the White House. He appealed again to fellow Democrats and opposition Republicans to work together to find a solution.
The impact of the budget cuts may not be felt immediately, but the uncertainty created by the cuts is already having an effect on the economy, Obama said.
On Sunday, his administration increased the pressure on Republicans in Congress on Sunday by releasing state-by-state reports on the impact of the looming budget cuts, an effort designed to get lawmakers to compromise or face unhappy constituents at home.
"The No. 1 risk, in my view, to the continuing economic comeback of Michigan is the federal government," Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, said in an interview. His state is the seat of the U.S. auto industry. Snyder said many companies remain in limbo on whether to invest in their business because of the financial uncertainty.
Republican leaders were not impressed by the state-by-state reports.
"The White House needs to spend less time explaining to the press how bad the (cuts) will be and more time actually working to stop it," said Michael Steel, a spokesman for House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner.
The dramatic budget cuts were designed to take effect only in case a specially established bipartisan congressional super-committee failed to come up with $1 trillion or more in savings from government programs.
Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has said the cuts would harm the readiness of U.S. fighting forces. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said travellers could see delayed flights. And furloughed meat inspectors could leave plants idled.
The cuts, with few exceptions, are designed to hit all federal accounts equally. The law gives Obama little room to ease the pain.
Sen. John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, called the looming defence cuts "unconscionable" and urged Obama to call lawmakers to the White House for a last-minute budget summit.
"I won't put all the blame all on the president of the United States. But the president leads," McCain told CNN.
But there are few signs of urgency among congressional leaders, who have recently indicated their willingness to let the cuts take effect and stay in place for weeks, if not much longer.
Obama has not been able to find enough support for his alternative approach of reducing deficits through a combination of targeted savings and tax increases. Obama has proposed closing tax loopholes that benefit the wealthiest Americans and corporations.
House Republicans have said reduced spending needs to be the focus 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 for the Treasury over a decade.
Some governors said the budget impasse was just the latest crisis in Washington that is keeping businesses from hiring and undermining the ability of state leaders to develop their own spending plans.
"It's senseless and it doesn't need to happen," said Maryland's Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley, during the annual meeting of the National Governors Association over the weekend. "This really threatens to hurt a lot of families in our state and kind of flat-line our job growth for the next several months."