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“I’m sure there are [sequester targets] that should be reformed or eliminated or at least curtailed. But I think there are other things that are working and should not be reduced, and probably should be increased if we care about economic growth,” said Ms. Sawhill, who served as an associate director at the White House’s Office of Management and Budget during the Clinton administration.

And with the White House and others saying the mere threat of the automatic cuts in part caused the gross domestic product to shrink by 0.1 percent at the end of last year, economists say the result could be far worse if the sequesters kick in.

“This is, in our opinion, likely to cause further contraction of growth in the GDP,” said Mr. Bell of the Bipartisan Policy Center. “When you have growth as sluggish as ours, that’s enough to really be a little bit concerning.”