President Barack Obama used his bully pulpit Tuesday to warn of calamitous consequences for the U.S. economy should the automatic spending cuts known as the “sequester” go into effect next Friday.
The president warned that the automatic cuts, totaling about $85 billion over the course of this year, would prompt job losses, weakened national security and canceled government services – among other consequences.
“So these cuts are not smart, they are not fair, they will hurt our economy, they will add hundreds of thousands of Americans to the unemployment rolls,” Obama said in a statement at the White House. “This is not an abstraction; people will lose their jobs. The unemployment rate might tick up again.”
The speech featured no new, concrete proposal from the president detailing how he would prefer for Congress to replace the sequester.
Democrats in Congress released a plan last week that called for $55 billion in new revenues from closing tax loopholes and deductions, and additional cuts by $27.5 billion to each the defense and discretionary spending budgets over the course of the next decade.
Obama’s speech was otherwise spent reiterating points he’s made for the better part of the last two months. He said that any sequester replacement should be “balanced” – shorthand for a combination of new tax revenue and spending cuts – and Obama urged lawmakers to approve a shorter-term replacement for the automatic cuts if they couldn’t reach consensus on a broader package by the end-of-February deadline.
Rather, the president, who was flanked by first-responders whose jobs Obama said would be threatened by the sequester, was making use of political optics and the presidential bully pulpit to pressure Congress to act.
Still, the urgency appeared to have little effect on Republicans, who dismissed the president’s remarks as unserious about reaching a solution.
"Once again, the president offered no credible plan that can pass Congress – only more calls for higher taxes," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a statement.
“Today's event at the White House proves once again that more than three months after the November election, President Obama still prefers campaign events to common sense, bipartisan action,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a statement.
Indeed, many Republicans have treated the sequester as a fait accompli; Congress is out of town this week, and lawmakers would only have a handful of days next week to act upon the sequester. Some Republicans have also argued that even if the sequester is replaced, its $85 billion in cuts should set a baseline for offsetting cuts in other areas of the budget.
“I have to say, though, that so far, at least, the ideas that the Republicans have proposed asks nothing of the wealthiest Americans or biggest corporations,” Obama said of the GOP proposal. “So the burden is all on first-responders or seniors or middle-class families. They doubled down, in fact, on the harsh, harmful cuts that I've outlined.”
The president added, as if to drive home the point: “Well, that's not balanced. That would be like Democrats saying we have to close our deficits without any spending cuts whatsoever. It's all taxes. That's not the position Democrats have taken, that's certainly not the position I've taken.”