US President Barack Obama, intensifying pressure on congressional Republicans, said on Friday that lawmakers still have “the opportunity to do the right thing” and avert a series of mandatory budget cuts by March 1.
Despite little sign of a deal emerging with Republicans, Obama said he does not believe it is inevitable that the US$85 billion in across-the-board budget cuts will take effect.
He said finding a way to avert the cuts should be a “no-brainer” for congressional lawmakers.
Speaking in the Oval Office during a meeting with visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Obama said that in contrast to earlier Washington fiscal fights, he did not believe the economic impact of the cuts would threaten the world financial market.
However, he added that if the US economy slows as a result of the cuts, the global economy could suffer as well.
Obama’s statements continued an administration drumroll of warnings this week, with appeals from Cabinet members ranging from US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Secretary of State John Kerry to Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
Even a slew of Democratic governors in the capital for their annual meeting picked up the cudgel, making arguments for Obama’s position to reporters.
The fight between Obama and congressional Republicans has centered on a seemingly intractable issue: Obama says he wants a more methodical and restrained plan for budget-cutting and one that would necessitate an additional tax increase.
Republican lawmakers and their leaders, US House Speaker John Boehner and US Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, for the most part have come together to oppose any new revenue measures.
Panetta last week said that the automatic cuts, known in Washington jargon as a sequester, would harm the readiness of US fighting forces.
Kerry, less than a week into his new job, said in a speech that the sequester could jeopardize the US’ standing in the world.
LaHood, a Republican who served several terms in the House of Representatives, joined White House press secretary Jay Carney in the briefing room to make an appeal on Friday to the reporters gathered there.
LaHood said the across-the-board reductions would require trimming US$600 million this year form the Federal Aviation budget and said that would mean furloughing air traffic controllers, which he said in turn would undermine the ability to guide planes in and out of airports.
He also said travelers could experience 90 minute delays or more in major cities.
Asked whether it appeared inevitable that the cuts would materialize, Carney said: “We obviously are discouraged by the line that Republican leaders have taken, which is the book is closed on revenue ... We remain hopeful and we will continue to engage with Congress.”
LaHood, in response to a question, denied that he was simply describing a worst-case scenario that would scare the public and put pressure on Republican lawmakers.
“What I’m trying to do is wake up members of the Congress with the idea that they need to come to the table so we don’t have to have this kind of calamity in air services in America,” he said.