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Obama ramps up pressure on GOP to avert budget cuts

February 19, 2013|By Kathleen Hennessey | This post has been updated. See the note below for details.

WASHINGTON -- With less than two weeks before across-the-board spending cuts are to begin taking effect, President Obama is cranking up pressure on congressional Republicans to agree to a Democratic plan that would temporarily block the deep reductions.

Obama is scheduled to speak Tuesday on the need to prevent the cuts, known as a sequester, as he appears at a White House event with first responders -- people whose jobs might be lost if the federal government slashes budgets as scheduled on March 1, according to a White House official.

The president plans to endorse a Democratic plan that would replace the across-the-board cuts with more targeted reductions, as well as new taxes on some people making more than $1 million a year.

"The president will challenge Republicans to make a very simple choice: Do they protect investments in education, healthcare and national defense or do they continue to prioritize and protect tax loopholes that benefit the very few at the expense of middle- and working-class Americans?" said the official, who would not be named discussing the plans.

Obama's event will be the latest step in his public campaign to cast his Republican opponents as standing in the way of  "balanced" deficit reduction, an effort he has pursued since his reelection and which he highlighted in his State of the Union speech last week.

The president says he wants to curb government spending, but that any deal must include new tax revenue from changes to the tax code and must protect entitlements.

GOP leaders also say they want to avert the blunt spending cuts, which were enacted as part of a 2011 budget deal as a way to force a compromise.

Nonpartisan experts say the cuts would eliminate hundreds of thousands of jobs and slow the recovery.

But Republicans argue that new taxes should not be included in the alternative. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said last week that the cuts were likely to hit unless lawmakers agreed on a long-term plan that dramatically cuts government spending and eliminates the deficit over the next decade.

[Updated, 5:22 a.m. Feb. 19: A Boehner spokesman said it was time for the Senate to find an alternative.

"We agree the sequester is a bad way to cut spending. That's why we've twice passed a plan to replace it with common-sense cuts and reforms that don't threaten our security, safety and economy," said spokesman Brendan Buck. "A solution now requires the Senate -- controlled by the president's party -- to finally pass a plan of their own."]

Senate Republicans are expected propose their own temporary alternative, which would curb the growth of the federal workforce.

The White House is continuing with the strategy that has yielded success in the past -- using the president's megaphone and a popular proposal to pressure Congress on deadline. That tactic successfully forced Republicans to agree to raise income taxes on top earners as part of last month's fiscal cliff deal. That deal also delayed the sequester for two months.

The Democrats are proposing an additional 10-month delay, replacing half the cuts with the so-called Buffett Rule, a requirement that those who have adjusted gross incomes above $1 million a year pay a minimum 30% tax rate.

The rule, an early staple in Obama's reelection campaign, is named for billionaire Warren Buffett, who has said that tax loopholes and deductions allow him to pay a lower effective tax rate than his secretary.

The Democratic proposal includes $55 billion in new revenue, along with cuts to farm subsidies and a smaller hit to defense spending than is scheduled.

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kathleen.hennessey@latimes.com

twitter.com/@khennessey

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