The automatic cuts are part of a 10-year, $1 trillion deficit reduction plan that was supposed to spur Congress and the administration to act on long-term fiscal policies that would stabilize the nation's debt. Though Congress and the White House have agreed on about $2.6 trillion in cuts and higher taxes since the beginning of 2011, they have been unable to close the deal on their ultimate goal of reducing deficits by about $4 trillion over a decade.
If the automatic cuts are allowed to kick in, they would reduce Pentagon spending by 7.9 percent and domestic programs by 5.3 percent. Food stamps and Medicaid would be exempt, but Medicare could take up to a 2 percent reduction, under the plan.
The automatic cuts were supposed to take effect Jan. 1. But Obama and congressional Republicans struck a New Year's deal that extended Bush era tax rates for all but the wealthiest Americans and put in place about $24 billion in deficit reduction. That delay effectively postponed the automatic reductions to March 1.
Obama and White House aides say the president's plan for long-term deficit reduction would increase tax revenue by about $600 billion to $700 billion over 10 years as well as reduce mandatory health care spending, primarily in Medicare, by about $400 billion over the next decade. It would also change an inflation formula that would reduce cost-of-living adjustments for beneficiaries of government programs, including Social Security.
Republicans have called for a more comprehensive overhaul of government entitlement programs.
Tuesday's Congressional Budget Office report predicted the deficit would dip to $430 billion by 2015, the lowest since the government posted a $459 billion deficit is former President George W. Bush's last year in office.
That would be a relatively low 2.4 percent when measured against the size of the economy. But deficits would move higher after that and again reach near $1 trillion in the latter portion of the 10-year window — despite the recently enacted tax increase on family income exceeding $450,000 and automatic spending cuts of about $100 billion a year. The package of spending cuts and tax increases are punishment for Washington's failure to strike a long-term budget pact.
"We need to continue working to cut spending responsibly, protect and strengthen programs like Medicare, and raise revenue by closing tax loopholes that the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations take advantage of," said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray, D-Wash.