Employing campaign-style tactics, President Obama told shipyard workers in Newport News, Va., on Tuesday that Republican lawmakers and their opposition to higher taxes are to blame for looming economy-damaging budget cuts.
“There are too many Republicans in Congress right now who refuse to compromise even an inch when it comes to closing tax loopholes and special-interest tax breaks,” Mr. Obama said at Newport News Shipbuilding, where several projects would be delayed if the $85 billion in cuts begin to take effect Friday. “That’s what’s holding things up right now.”
The White House says about 90,000 civilian Pentagon employees would be furloughed in Virginia alone. In spite of his high-pressure approach, the president said he is not engaging in politics.
“I’m not interested in spin; I’m not interested in playing a blame game,” Mr. Obama told the workers. “All I’m interested in is solving problems. These cuts are wrong. They’re not smart, they’re not fair.”
In the past week, the administration has been ramped up its warnings about the impact of the budget cuts, arguing that they will result in airport delays, freed criminals, increased illegal immigration and even a heightened threat of a terrorist attack.
Republicans accused the president of paying too much attention to public-relations events instead of negotiating with them on ways to avert the latest fiscal crisis. The party is resisting Mr. Obama’s calls to raise as much as $580 billion in extra tax revenue as part of a deal.
Speaker John A. Boehner said Tuesday that the House doesn’t need to pass a third sequester replacement bill “before the Senate gets off their ass and begins to do something.”
Senate Democrats are preparing a vote this week on a $110 billion package of tax increases and spending cuts that would replace the automatic, across-the-board cuts.
As the president raised the rhetoric about disastrous defense cuts, Republicans intensified their accusations that Mr. Obama is behaving irresponsibly by campaigning on the road instead of negotiating directly with lawmakers.
Mr. Boehner, Ohio Republican, told reporters that the president is using “our military men and women as a prop.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said Mr. Obama is “running around acting like the world is going to end.” He gave a detailed account of how Vice President Joseph R. Biden first proposed the sequester to him in 2011.
“Personally, I don’t believe the world will end if the president’s sequester takes effect,” Mr. McConnell said. “But our country would be much better served if the Democrats who run Washington would get off the campaign trail and work with us to trim the budget in a more rational way.”
The president said the impact of this policy “won’t be felt overnight, but it will be real.”
“The sequester will weaken our economic recovery,” he said.
The White House said the furloughs in Virginia alone would reduce the affected employees’ gross pay by a total of $648.4 million. As well, it would cancel the maintenance of 11 ships in Norfolk, defer four projects at Dahlgren, Oceana, and Norfolk, and delay other modernization and demolition projects.