WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama sounded a dire alarm once again on the set of automatic, mandatory spending cuts known as the sequester, warning that hundreds of thousands will unemployment rolls if Congress doesn't act.
"These cuts are not smart, they are not fair, they will add hundreds of thousands of people to the unemployment roles," Obama said. "This is not an abstraction. People will lose their jobs. The unemployment rate might tick up again."
The cuts, mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011 in an attempt to force a bipartisan deficit reduction agreement, would take a "meat cleaver" to government, Obama said, cutting indiscriminately across all federal programs. Unless Congress offsets them with more targeted spending cuts, tax increases, or both, the cuts will take effect on March 1.
Obama's remarks on Tuesday were little different from what he said two weeks ago — the last time he addressed reporters on the sequester — and little, if any, progress has been made with congressional lawmakers. The president used a backdrop of "emergency responders" to make his point, warning of cuts to law enforcement, food safety, and the military if Congress doesn't act.
"Already these cuts have forced the Navy to delay an aircraft carrier that was supposed to be deployed to the Gulf," Obama said.
With Congress out of session until next week, Obama's remarks were designed to increase pressure on Republicans to cut loopholes that benefit "special interests" and millionaires.
"Are you willing to see a bunch of emergency responders lose their jobs because you want to protect some special interests?" Obama asked.
Obama wants a "balanced" deal that includes revenue increases from cutting loopholes and deductions in the tax code as well as spending cuts. Republicans want to close the loopholes and deductions and use the revenue to lower tax rates, while paying for the sequester with entitlement reform and other spending cuts.
"Americans know that if they give President Obama more tax revenue, he isn't going to use it to reduce the deficit; he's going to spend it," said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Speaker of the House John Boehner.