- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 19, 2013

President Obama steps before the television cameras Tuesday morning to urge Republicans to avoid the automatic, across-the-board budget cuts scheduled to hit the government at the beginning of March, according to a White House official.

With Congress out of town this week and Mr. Obama back in Washington after a weekend golf vacation in Florida, the president will press his case for passing more tax increases instead of relying solely on spending cuts as Republicans want in order to produce enough deficit reduction over the next 10 years to avoid the so-called sequester set to kick in March 1.

“The president will make clear that we need to help the middle class get ahead and help our businesses create jobs,” a White House official said Monday night. “These cuts do just the opposite. But time and again, Republicans in Congress have said they would rather see these devastating cuts go into effect than close a single loophole that benefit the wealthy.”

Mr. Obama has invited emergency responders to join him on the stage to illustrate the types of jobs that are on the line if Congress fails to avoid the $85 billion in cuts divided between defense and domestic needs.

If the cuts go into effect, economists have warned that hundreds of thousands of middle-class jobs across the country could be lost. The White House said Monday that the Federal Emergency Management Agency would eliminate funding for state and local grants that support firefighter positions and state and local emergency management personnel, hampering the government’s ability to respond to natural disasters and other emergencies.

Before Congress left for a weeklong recess, defense-hawk Republicans furiously filed bills in the House and Senate to cancel the defense cuts and replace them with savings from attrition in the federal workforce.

But other Republicans have said they are ready to swallow the defense cuts in order to get the domestic cuts, and argue that the Defense Department has grown along with the rest of the government and can handle the trims.

Mr. Obama and most Democrats don’t want to see the domestic cuts and warn that slicing the budget so indiscriminately could send the still-struggling economic recovery off the rails.

Republicans are still upset over agreeing to a deal on New Year’s Day to avoid the first sequester deadline that relied on tax increases rather than cuts to entitlement programs.

Mr. Obama has proposed a deficit-reduction plan he says is balanced because it increases taxes and overhauls entitlement programs, though he has been very short on the specifics of the spending cuts.

“The House and Senate have said they want to do a budget, and that budget must be balanced and cut spending where we can, reform our entitlement programs and ask the wealthiest few and big corporations to pay their fair share,” the official said.

At the very least, Mr. Obama argues, Republicans should pass a short-term fix and punt the issue down the road to allow time for a thorough debate about overhauling the nation’s tax code and closing tax loopholes.

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