Republican leaders pushed back against new pressure from President Obama that they must compromise to avert looming budget cuts, countering that Democrats must accept serious reforms to entitlement programs to get a deal through Congress.
GOP House Speaker John A. Boehner said Tuesday the House has twice passed a plan to replace the so-called sequester with “common sense cuts,” but Mr. Obama has so far been unwilling to find enough savings from overhauling Medicare and Social Security. The president, he said, is relying too heavily on plans to increase taxes again.
“Just last month, the president got his higher taxes on the wealthy, and he’s already back for more,” Ohio’s Mr. Boehner said in a statement. The Democrats’ “new-found concern about the president’s sequester is appreciated, but words alone won’t avert it.”
With Congress out of town this week and Mr. Obama back in Washington after a weekend golf vacation in Florida, the president stepped before the cameras Tuesday to urge congressional Republicans to avoid the $85 billion in so-called sequester spending cuts set to kick in March 1.
Mr. Obama warned about the dire consequences of failing to avert the cuts in front of 17 uniformed firefighters and law enforcement officers who could lose their jobs.
The sequester, he said, “won’t help the economy, won’t create jobs, and will mean hardship for a whole lot of people” and that if Congress allows the “meat-cleaver” cuts to take effect, military readiness will be hampered and government services reduced.
He also warned that thousands of teachers would be laid off and that funding would be cut for the FBI and other emergency responders.
“This is not an abstraction,” he said. “People will lose their jobs. The unemployment rate might tick up again.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky criticized Mr. Obama for holding a “campaign-style” event rather than finding wasteful programs to eliminate, such as spending on green-energy programs.
“The president says that the door is open, but he’s spent more time in 2013 with Tiger Woods than with all congressional Republicans,” tweeted Doug Heye, a spokesman for House Majority leader Eric Cantor. He was referring to Mr. Obama’s decision to spend the weekend golfing with Mr. Woods and others in Florida.
The Republicans also pointed out that it was Mr. Obama who first suggested the sequester cuts as a means to force lawmakers to agree to more a more measured deficit-reduction plan.
White House spokesman Jay Carney dismissed any notion that the White House has failed to reach out to Republicans, although he would not say whether officials were talking to them on a regular basis.
“The problem here isn’t a lack of meetings around the table in the Roosevelt Room or the Cabinet room,” he said.
Mr. Obama has insisted on a balanced plan that closes loopholes for wealthy Americans and corporations while overhauling entitlement program.
“I’ve offered a balanced approach to deficit reduction,” he said. “I’m willing to cut more spending that we don’t need, get rid of programs that aren’t working. I’ve laid out specific reforms to our entitlement programs.”
But Republicans are still upset over the fiscal cliff deal on New Year’s Day that avoided the first sequester deadline. It relied mostly on tax increases rather than cuts to entitlement programs. After giving in just weeks ago, Republicans are trying to extract more spending cuts to reduce the country’s $16 trillion debt.
Economists have warned that hundreds of thousands of jobs across the country could be lost if the cuts happen. The White House said Monday that the Federal Emergency Management Agency would eliminate funding for state and local grants that support firefighter positions and local emergency management personnel, hampering the government’s ability to respond to natural disasters and other emergencies.
To allow time for Congress to negotiate a long-term solution, Mr. Obama called on Republicans to pass a smaller, short-term $110 billion package that Democrats proposed last week. The short-term fix would give Congress a few more months for a thorough debate about overhauling the nation’s tax code and closing tax loopholes.
He urged Congress to delay the cuts set to kick in next Friday to give itself time to “finish the job of deficit-reduction in a sensible way.”