After failing to reach a last-minute agreement to avoid billions of dollars in automatic government spending cuts, President Barack Obama looked to put the blame squarely on Republicans in Congress.
Speaking at a White House press conference Friday following a meeting with Congressional leaders, Obama argued that the spending cuts are going into effect because of a choice by Republicans.
"They've allowed these cuts to happen because they refuse to budge on closing a single wasteful loophole to help reduce the deficit," Obama said.
He added, "As recently as yesterday, they decided to protect special interest tax breaks for the well-off and well-connected, and they think that that's apparently more important than protecting our military or middle-class families from the pain of these cuts."
Approximately $85 billion in automatic cuts to both defense and domestic spending are due to go into effect before midnight on Friday due to Washington lawmakers' inability to reach a budget compromise.
The automatic spending cuts, known as the sequester, were implemented as part of the Budget Control Act of 2011 in order to push lawmakers to compromise on a broader budget agreement.
Members of both political parties have warned about the economic impact of the cuts, but familiar disagreements over taxes and entitlement reforms have prevented lawmakers from reaching an agreement to avoid them.
Obama referred to the sequester as a "series of dumb, arbitrary cuts to things that businesses depend on and workers depend on, like education, and research, and infrastructure and defense."
While the president noted that not everyone will feel the pain of the spending cuts right away, he said that they will eventually cause a ripple effect throughout the economy.
"Layoffs and pay cuts means that people have less money in their pockets, and that means that they have less money to spend at local businesses," Obama said.
He added, "That means lower profits. That means fewer hires. The longer these cuts remain in place, the greater the damage to our economy -- a slow grind that will intensify with each passing day."
Addressing criticism that he has "failed to lead" on the sequester, Obama suggested that he has done everything within his power and even asked the gathered reporters what more he could do.
He went on to note that he is not a dictator and can't lock Congressional leaders in a room and force them to "do the right thing."
Nonetheless, Obama said he would continue to reach out to Republicans in an effort to replace the sequester and said he would not let the political gridlock around the budget prevent progress on other important issues such as immigration reform and gun control.
The president once again indicated that he would be willing to compromise on entitlement reform but continued to call on Republicans to accept a "balanced approach" to deficit reduction that includes both spending cuts and tax reforms.
However, Republicans have steadfastly refused to consider higher taxes, arguing that the issue of increased revenues was addressed by the fiscal cliff agreement, which raised tax rates on families making more than $450,000 a year.
Speaking to reporters following the meeting at the White House, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, once again ruled out tax increases to address the deficit.
"The president got his tax hikes on January 1st," Boehner said. "The discussion about revenue in my view is over. It's about taking on the spending problem here in Washington."
by RTT Staff Writer
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