WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama warned Friday that across-the-board spending cuts triggered on Friday would eventually cause “real pain,” after he and Republican leaders failed to reach a last-minute agreement on tax and spending issues that have divided the two parties.
The president said triggering the cuts “is not going to be an apocalypse.”
“It's just dumb,” he told reporters at the White House.
“And it's going to hurt. It's going to hurt individual people, and it's going to hurt the economy overall.”
At the Pentagon, which will bear more than half of the $85 billion in cuts that must be made now through September, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said U.S. Air Force flying time and U.S. Army training unrelated to the war in Afghanistan would be reduced immediately. Oklahoma has three Air Force bases, including two specializing in pilot training, and an Army artillery training post.
Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said the impact of the cuts would build progressively over the next few months.
Furlough notices to about 800,000 civilian employees — including 24,000 in Oklahoma — are expected to be sent out later this month, and some employees could be furloughed for as many as 22 days between late April and the end of September.
Parties trade blame
Obama blamed the cuts on Republican unwillingness to raise more revenue through tax changes, while Republicans said the president had failed to make serious proposals to control the spending that was driving the nation's debt.
Rep. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, said the House would take up legislation next week that would keep the spending limits in place but provide more flexibility to the Defense Department and other federal agencies to manage the cuts.
Lankford said the Obama administration had failed to provide leadership to federal agencies to coordinate the cuts.
The cuts, known as the sequester, were designed in 2011 to be so odious that they would never go into effect.
The Pentagon and groups representing the nation's defense contractors have been warning for several months that the cuts could hurt the military's ability to fight multiple conflicts and could cost jobs.
The Obama administration has said in the past week that the cuts could lead to long delays at airports, teacher layoffs and furloughs for first responders and prosecutors.
Spending on such programs as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps and veterans programs is mostly exempt. And military personnel will not be subject to furloughs, though Pentagon officials say they will be affected in other ways.
Carter said a lack of flying time could eventually cause some pilots to lose their rating, which means they would not be able to fly.
Gov. Mary Fallin said Friday that state agencies have been preparing for possible cuts in federal funds and that an immediate loss in services is not expected.
“With that said, it is clear the sequester is creating a chaotic and uncertain environment for businesses looking to invest, state governments tasked with crafting budgets, and those who receive federal benefits or who work for or contract with the government,” Fallin said.
“That uncertainty is bad for the economy and is destroying jobs. Furthermore, the large and seemingly haphazard cuts to military spending reduce the effectiveness of our armed services and hurt the economies of states with large military presences, such as Oklahoma.”
Republicans have been critical of how the cuts are structured, and the House last year passed two bills that would have reallocated them.
However, they don't want to reduce the amount that is ultimately cut or raise taxes to replace all or part of them.
Obama contends the $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction required over 10 years from the 2011 deal shouldn't be done with cuts alone.
“What I can't do is ask middle-class families, ask seniors, ask students to bear the entire burden of deficit reduction when we know we've got a bunch of tax loopholes that are benefiting the well-off and the well-connected, aren't contributing to growth, aren't contributing to our economy,” Obama said.
Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Westville, said: “The higher taxes President Barack Obama is campaigning for will not help our businesses, families or the economy.
“However, spending cuts and staying on course to a balanced budget will help Oklahoma taxpayers who have already been hit by spiking gas prices and an increase in the payroll tax.”