WASHINGTON President Barack Obama turned to local television stations across the United States on Wednesday to increase public pressure on congressional Republicans to avert $85 billion in budget cuts set to begin in nine days.
Obama scheduled interviews with television stations in eight media markets, most of which have a strong military presence, on a day when the Pentagon described its plans for laying off some 800,000 civilian employees for 22 days to save money.
"These automatic spending cuts were designed to be avoided. The idea was that Democrats and Republicans would come together with a sensible deficit-reduction program," Obama said in an interview with Boston ABC affiliate WCVB.
The interviews are part of an administration strategy to lay blame for the job losses on Republicans, who control the House of Representatives.
Unless Obama and Republicans reach a deal, about $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts will kick in at the beginning of March and continue through September 30 as part of a decade-long $1.2 trillion budget savings plan agreed by policymakers in 2011.
Not even the operations of the White House will be spared, an administration official said. "We anticipate significant disruption to our operations and mission, which could include furloughs," said the official, who did not provide further details.
Obama has said he wants Congress to end tax loopholes enjoyed mainly by the wealthy to buy lawmakers enough time to pass a budget, but Republicans are insisting on deeper spending cuts to reduce the $16 trillion national debt.
Obama also talked to local TV news anchors in Baltimore, Oklahoma City, San Francisco, Honolulu, San Antonio, Charleston, South Carolina, and Wichita, Kansas.
Congress is not in session this week and is not expected to reach a deal by the March 1 deadline. Instead, lawmakers will work on a deal to fund government agencies later in the month.
The battle over "sequestration" - the name for the automatic spending cuts - is the latest in a series of fights between Obama and Republicans over the nation's deficit.
Obama also has tried to lay the groundwork for a broader economic strategy and argued the government should invest in infrastructure and manufacturing to help address a stubbornly high unemployment rate.
Obama was also slated to talk to the news anchors about a $50 billion spending plan he discussed in his State of the Union address last week that the White House is calling "Fix It First."
Most of that money would go to roads, bridges and airports where officials have postponed maintenance projects, the White House said. But any new spending will face an uphill battle in Congress.
(Additional reporting by Mark Felsenthal and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Alistair Bell, David Storey and Philip Barbara)