The White House on Sunday stepped up pressure on Republicans to adopt a short-term budget patch that would cancel the $85 billion in spending “sequesters” due on March 1, saying that government spending is still needed to prop up a stubbornly sluggish economy.
Late last week, White House officials laid out a list of potential cuts they would have to make if the sequesters aren’t averted, saying they’d be forced to kick children out of the Head Start education program and cut federal loans to small businesses. The officials even warned that more American workers could die as a result of furloughs for occupational safety inspectors.
Those are the latest moves in what’s become a continuous chess match between the GOP and Democrats as the former pushes for spending cuts, and the latter argue for higher taxes.
“We should have a debate over how to best reduce the deficit,” White House spokesman Dan Pfeiffer said in a blog Sunday, expanding on an attack the administration began last week. “But with only three weeks until these indiscriminate cuts hit, Congress should find a short-term package to give themselves a little more time to find a solution to permanently turn off the sequester. That package should have balance and include spending cuts and revenues.”
By balance, the White House means tax increases — something Republicans have rejected, arguing they already accepted tax increases at the beginning of the year when the agreement they struck with Mr. Obama raised payroll taxes on all Americans, and raised income-tax rates on the top 1 percent.
“He got his tax hikes. Now we need to address our spending problem,” House Speaker John A. Boehner’s office said in a memo Friday, pushing back against the White House’s demands.
Both parties are following much the same script as when confronting other budget deadlines over the past two years — though this time the stakes involve less than 10 percent of government spending, rather than an entire government shutdown or massive tax hikes on all Americans.
Still, the White House argues those cuts are untenable.
“Across the government, we’ll see assistance programs slashed; we’ll see contracts cut; we’ll see employees out of work,” Danny Werfel, the federal controller for the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, told reporters last week. “And we’ll have no choice. The blunt, irresponsible and severe nature of sequestration means that we can’t plan our way out of these consequences or take steps to soften the blow.”
Among the cuts he laid out were:
600,000 women and children he said would lose food stamps.
100,000 formerly homeless people who would lose their government-financed housing.
Cuts to special-education money that would eliminate federal support for 7,200 school employees around the country.