Obama To Ask Congress To Avert Sequester With Short-Term Agreement

Wants tens of billions of dollars in spending cuts and revenue increases.

Jim Mone / AP

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama will ask lawmakers to come up with tens of billions of dollars in budgetary savings in the next three weeks to prevent mandatory spending cuts from hitting the Defense Department and other government programs, according to a White House official.

Obama will ask for enough savings to forestall “deep, indiscriminate cuts” for a “few” months in remarks from the White House at 1:15 p.m. Tuesday, the official said.

The cuts, passed in 2011 to be so painful as to force Congress to agree to real budgetary reform, have drawn bipartisan criticism as being detrimental to the economy and vital government services.

“The entire sequester is bad policy,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters last week. “It was designed to be bad policy, both on the defense across-the-board cuts and the nondefense across-the-board cuts.”

Last month, congressional leaders and the White House found an equal amount of tax increases and spending cuts to push off the mandatory across-the-board cuts until March 1. Obama has pledged that any further effort to push off the sequester must be similarly balanced with revenues and targeted spending cuts — with the revenues coming through eliminating loopholes and deductions in the tax code. Republican lawmakers have repeatedly said they will oppose any effort to raise revenues through tax reform.

The White House has warned that even the negotiations around the sequester are harming the economy, blaming last quarter’s GDP contraction on the sequester.

“Uncertainty around the sequester is already having a negative impact on our economic growth,” the official said, “and if it was to take effect it would cost hundreds of thousands of American jobs and have devastating impacts on our economy.”

“But given that the budget process in Congress won’t likely be completed by March 1, the president on Tuesday will call on Congress to pass a smaller package of spending cuts and tax reforms to avoid the economically harmful consequences of the sequester for a few months, which will allow Congress more time to reach a solution that permanently avoids the sequester and significantly reduces the deficit in a balanced way,” the official added. “While we need to deal with our deficits over the long term, we shouldn’t have workers being laid off, kids kicked off Head Start, and food safety inspections cut while Congress completes the process.”

Later Tuesday, Obama is meeting with top executives of some of the country’s largest companies to discuss his plans for the sequester as well as his push for comprehensive immigration reform.

UPDATE: Speaker of the House John Boehner issued a statement opposing any new revenue increases to avert the sequester:

“President Obama first proposed the sequester and insisted it become law. Republicans have twice voted to replace these arbitrary cuts with common-sense cuts and reforms that protect our national defense. We believe there is a better way to reduce the deficit, but Americans do not support sacrificing real spending cuts for more tax hikes. The president’s sequester should be replaced with spending cuts and reforms that will start us on the path to balancing the budget in 10 years.”

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