WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama urged Congress on Tuesday to postpone or replace “massive” spending cuts set to take effect next month, saying “we can't just cut our way to prosperity.”
“Deep, indiscriminate cuts to things like education and training, energy and national security will cost us jobs, and it will slow down our recovery,” the president told reporters at the White House.
“It's not the right thing to do for the economy; it's not the right thing for folks who are out there still looking for work.”
Obama offered no new proposals to avert the cuts — which will hit most federal departments, with the military bearing about half of the total — but said Congress should replace them with a combination of spending cuts and new revenue through reform of the tax code.
The president said proposals he already has made are still on the table. White House spokesman Jay Carney on Tuesday mentioned eliminating tax breaks for oil and gas companies and capping the amount of deductions that wealthier taxpayers can claim.
Part of the debt ceiling deal of 2011, the cuts total more than $1 trillion over 10 years. Entitlement programs are mostly exempt, meaning the cuts would be spread out over defense, homeland security, education and other government departments. The cuts were supposed to go into effect in January but were delayed for two months as part of the “fiscal cliff” deal.
The president said Congress might not have time to enact a package that includes tax reform and spending cuts before March 1 and should pass a smaller package to delay the sequester “for a few months.”
An analysis prepared last week for Sen. Jim Inhofe, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, warned that the cuts could lead to thousands of civilian workers being furloughed at Oklahoma's military bases and training sharply curtailed.
Inhofe, R-Tulsa, issued a joint statement Tuesday with Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, criticizing the president for proposing higher taxes rather than reforms to entitlement spending.
“We urge the President to lead, rather than loop endlessly around a beaten path,” the lawmakers said. “It is in his power to forge a deal that (reins) in our debt without levying more taxes on struggling Americans, and without hollowing out an at-war military.”
Reps. Tom Cole, R-Moore, and James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, said last week that the GOP-led House would rather see the cuts go into effect than raise taxes to avert them.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, said the president shouldn't view tax reform as a way to pay down the deficit. Instead, Coburn said, closing tax loopholes should be accompanied by lower tax rates for working Americans.
“Ironically, the very tax earmarks the administration slipped into the fiscal cliff deal for special interests such as Hollywood movie producers, the wind industry and NASCAR, kept rates artificially high for lower-income and middle class families,” Coburn said.
But Obama said Tuesday, “If we're serious about paying down the deficit, the savings we achieve from tax reform should be used to pay down the deficit, and potentially to make our businesses more competitive.”