WASHINGTON -- President Obama warned that the economy would be weaker, job growth slower and middle-class families harmed by the budget cuts set to hit federal agencies on Friday, although he acknowledged the impact would roll out over time and would not immediately rattle the economy.
"I don’t anticipate a huge financial crisis, but people are going to be hurt," Obama told reporters at the White House on Friday. Later, he added, "It's not going to be an apocalypse ... it's just dumb."
In the days leading up the deadline, the White House has been focused on highlighting what it described as the dire effects of the $85-billion, automatic, across-the-board spending cuts in this fiscal year. Teachers would be laid off, planes delayed and border security agents furloughed, officials said.
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The warnings led some to compare Obama to a Chicken Little, trying to hype the cuts to pressure Republicans into a budget deal to avoid them.
But Obama calibrated his tone Friday, with the cuts all but certain to begin rolling out later in the day. After a last-minute, perfunctory meeting with congressional leaders, Obama told reporters that the cuts would have a gradual impact but tried to put a personal face on the budget standoff.
"Starting tomorrow, everybody here, all the folks who are cleaning the floors at the Capitol ... they're going to have less pay, the janitors, the security guards. They just got a pay cut, and they got to figure out how to manage that," Obama said. "That's real."
Obama laid the blame on Republicans, saying they "chose" the cuts rather than a compromise. Obama has insisted that the only way to block the so-called sequester would be a package that also included new taxes on the wealthy and corporations.
The president expressed frustration with Republican leaders on Capitol Hill and argued that conservatives in the party had made it impossible for their leaders to strike a deal. The problem isn't his own power of persuasion, he said, pushing back against some critics who have argued that Obama should have shown stronger leadership.
Those critics are essentially arguing “that I should somehow, you know, do a Jedi mind meld with these folks and convince them to do what's right," Obama said.
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"I am not a dictator, I'm the president, he said. Referring to the Kentucky lawmaker who leads Republicans in the Senate and the Ohio congressman who leads them in the House, he added, "So ultimately, if Mitch McConnell or John Boehner say, 'We need to go to catch a plane,' I can't have Secret Service block the doorway, right?"
After leaving the Friday morning meeting at the White House, Boehner, the House speaker, told reporters that the conversation on raising taxes was over. He noted that Republicans had already compromised with Obama on taxes, accepting a year-end budget deal that raised income taxes on the wealthy.
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