WASHINGTON (AP) — Staking out his ground ahead of a fiscal deadline, President Barack Obama lashed out against Republicans, saying they are unwilling to raise taxes to reduce deficits and warning that the jobs of essential government workers, from teachers to emergency responders, are on the line.
Obama spoke as a March 1 deadline for automatic across-the-board spending cuts approached and with Republicans and Democrats in an apparent stalemate over how to avoid them.
Obama cautioned that if the $85 billion in immediate cuts — known as the sequester — occur, the full range of government would feel the effects. Among those he listed: furloughed FBI agents, reductions in spending for communities to pay police and fire personnel and teachers, and decreased ability to respond to threats around the world.
He said the consequences would be felt across the economy.
"People will lose their jobs," he said. "The unemployment rate might tick up again."
"So far at least, the ideas that the Republicans have proposed ask nothing of the wealthiest Americans or the biggest corporations," Obama said. "So the burden is all on the first responders, or seniors or middle class families."
House Republicans have proposed an alternative to the immediate cuts, targeting some spending and extending some of the reductions over a longer period of time. They also have said they are willing to undertake changes in the tax code and eliminate loopholes and tax subsidies. But they have said they would overhaul the tax system to reduce rates, not to raise revenue. Obama did win an increase at the start of the year when Congress increased the upper tax rate for the wealthiest Americans.
"The American people understand that the revenue debate is now closed," House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement Tuesday following Obama's remarks. "Tax reform is a once-in-a generation opportunity to boost job creation in America. It should not be squandered to enable more Washington spending. Spending is the problem, spending must be the focus."
Obama's remarks came a day after he returned to Washington from a three-day golfing weekend in Florida.
Congress is not in session this week, meaning no votes will occur before next week and complicating the ability to negotiate any short-term resolution.
Obama said the anticipated cuts were already having an effect, noting that the Navy had already delayed the deployment of a carrier to the Persian Gulf.
"Changes like this — not well thought through, not phased in properly — changes like this effect our ability to respond to threats in unstable parts of the world," he said.
Obama wants to offset the immediate spending cuts, known as a sequestration in budget language, through a combination of targeted spending cuts and increased tax revenue. The White House is backing a proposal unveiled last week by Senate Democrats that is in line with the president's principles.
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