President Barack Obama increased the pressure on Congress Tuesday, calling on Republicans to avert the 2013 automatic spending cuts by preserving jobs and the middle class instead of securing special interest loopholes.
A defense sequester that will result in an across-the-board $85 billion in spending cuts this year will take effect next Friday.
As Republicans and Democrats continue to blame each other, Obama said on Tuesday he finds it “troubling that 10 days from now Congress might allow automatic, severe budget cuts to take place.” He added that the cuts to be shared evenly between the Pentagon and non-defense programs won’t help the economy or create jobs.
Lawmakers introduced the threat of sequestration in the summer of 2011, hoping it would be so unappealing that Democrats and Republicans would work together on a bipartisan solution to avoid it. However, there is still no compromise in Congress, and military readiness, border patrol, federal prosecution, teachers, air traffic control and primary care could be affected by the automatic sequester cuts if there isn’t an alternative solution.
“It seems like every three months around here, there's some manufactured crisis,” Obama said, adding that he will not sign any plan that asks the middle class to bear the burden.
The President has proposed what he calls a balanced approach that contains new tax revenues and spending cuts. But Republicans said increasing taxes is not a part of any deal they would sign.
Senate Democrats have proposed a $120 billion deficit reduction measure that would implement a tax rate of 30 percent on incomes $1 million and up. But because taxes are included, Republicans have already shot it down.
“I am willing to cut more spending that we don’t need, get rid of programs that aren’t working,” Obama said.
And if the lawmakers in the House and Senate cut a balanced budget deal, the president urged Congress once more to, at the very least, pass a smaller plan.
“Not to kick the can down the road,” he warned, “but to give them time to work together.”
The Pentagon, which has nearly $500 billion in budget cuts already planned for the next decade regardless of sequestration, decided early this month it will not deploy the aircraft carrier USS Harry Truman to the Persian Gulf.
Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is also proposing a pay cut for troops.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, said the sequester cuts are likely to go into effect and told reporters last week he isn’t interested in last-minute talks. McConnell was brought in last minute to broker the tax portion of the fiscal cliff last year with Vice President Joe Biden.
“Read my lips: I am not interested in an 11th-hour negotiation,” he said.
Following Obama's speech Tuesday, McConnell told NBC News that the president prefers "campaign events to commonsense, bipartisan action."
In the meantime, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D- Nev., said his Senate colleagues will soon vote on a temporary replacement plan, which he said contains "smart spending cuts and measures that close wasteful corporate tax loopholes and subsidies."
“But for Congress to act, Republicans must get off the sidelines," said Reid, following Obama's sequester speech. "So far, Republicans have shown that they would rather let the sequester go into effect, or make even deeper cuts to Medicare, education and medical research, than close a single wasteful tax loophole. The Republicans’ position is untenable, but only time will tell how many people must lose their jobs before Republicans listen to the overwhelming majority of Americans, and work with Democrats to forge a balanced approach.”