WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama on Tuesday pressured Republicans to prevent “meat cleaver” spending cuts from slashing crucial federal services, effectively starting the clock on the final scramble to stave off automatic spending cuts due to hit next week.
Standing with uniformed police and firefighters at the White House, Obama issued grave warnings about the effect of the across-the-board cuts on such public servants-cuts he and Congress approved in 2011 as a mechanism to force compromise on debt and deficit reduction.
Public safety, food inspections, border security, military readiness and education programs are all at stake if the nearly 8 percent reductions to defense and roughly 5 percent cuts to domestic programs are allowed to kick in this year, Obama said.
“If Congress allows this meat-cleaver approach to take place, it will jeopardize our military readiness; it will eviscerate job-creating investments in education and energy and medical research,” Obama said. “These cuts are not smart. They are not fair. They will hurt our economy.”
Rather than spur bipartisan compromise, the $1.2 trillion in spending cuts have led to another budget standoff in Washington, one that fits a strikingly familiar pattern. With a hard deadline looming, Obama is warning of dire consequences and Republicans are complaining of the president’s lack of leadership.
The pattern may try public patience. But the White House has used it in the past to win battles with the Republican-led House over payroll taxes, student loan interest rates, the debt ceiling and income taxes. In each fight, Obama won concessions by focusing on a deadline, taking a popular position and backing Republicans into a corner.
In this case, Obama and his Democratic allies are pushing a proposal that would delay the budget pain for 10 more months, replacing the across-the-board cuts with more targeted reductions as well as new tax revenue collected from taxpayers earning more than $1 million a year.
Republicans, however, have rejected any proposal that raises taxes and have sought an alternative that relies only on reducing federal spending. The Senate is expected to hold largely symbolic votes on both approaches when Congress returns from a weeklong Presidents Day recess next week.
The current fight is just part of the larger debate over reaching an elusive deal that addresses the long-term drivers of the nation’s debt.