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Obama warns of dire sequester consequences

February 19, 2013|By Christi Parsons and Kathleen Hennessey

WASHINGTON -- President Obama on Tuesday accused Republicans of preferring the effects of automatic across-the-board spending cuts to small tax hikes for the wealthy as he tried to ratchet up pressure on GOP lawmakers to go along with Democratic budget plans.

In a morning appearance alongside emergency first responders he suggested could lose their jobs under the automatic cuts, Obama complained that congressional Republicans refuse to consider what he calls a “balanced” approached to budgeting.

“So far, at least, what they've expressed is a preference where they'd rather have these cuts go into effect than close a single tax loophole for the wealthiest Americans -- not one,” Obama said as he delivered brief remarks. He took no questions from the White House press corps.

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The automatic cuts, set to take effect March 1, would harm the economy, cost American jobs and even threaten military and law enforcement readiness, Obama said.

The Tuesday appearance is the president’s latest event in a public campaign to portray the GOP as standing in the way of “balanced” reductions to debt and deficit. Obama says he is willing to cut wasteful government spending to reach that goal but insists the deal must also involve reform of the tax code in a way that produces new tax revenue.

Republicans also want to find a way to avoid the dramatic spending cuts, set up by Obama and Congress as a way to force the parties to work out a compromise, but they want to do it without imposing new taxes.

House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) predicted last week that the automatic cuts would probably take effect unless lawmakers come up with a long-term plan significantly cutting spending and wiping out the deficit in the next decade.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Obama renewed his call for a short-term fix that would give the parties more time to work out a bigger plan.

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If Republicans and Democrats can’t get a big budget agreement done by next Friday, Obama said, then Congress should pass a smaller package of spending cuts and tax reforms that would prevent the so-called sequester cuts from taking effect.

Rather than simply a plan to “kick the can down the road,” Obama said, the fix would “give them time to work together on a plan that finishes the job of deficit reduction in a sensible way.”

The president spoke grimly of the consequences of letting the deadline pass without such a fix.

Emergency responders such as police and firefighters would see their disaster response degraded, he said. Border patrol agents would have their hours reduced.

FBI agents will be furloughed and federal prosecutors “will have to close cases and let criminals go,” Obama said, while teachers are laid off and many Americans lose access to preventive care including cancer screenings.

“It seems like every three months around here, there is some manufactured crisis,” Obama said. “We've got more work to do than to just try to dig ourselves out of these self-inflicted wounds.”

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