By Mark Felsenthal
WASHINGTON Jan 30 The White House on Wednesday
blamed the surprising contraction of the U.S. economy at the end
of last year at least partly on Republican "political
brinkmanship" for threatening to let defense cuts take effect.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said similar threats over a
looming March 1 deadline when defense and other cuts take effect
absent a broader budget deal could similarly hurt the U.S.
economy and taxpayers.
"This is political brinkmanship with one primary victim, and
that is American taxpayers and the American middle class,"
Carney said at a briefing.
"Our economy is facing a major headwind ... and that's
Republicans in Congress."
Carney referred to comments by former vice presidential
candidate and House of Representatives Budget Committee Chairman
Paul Ryan, who said Sunday he believes the automatic spending
cuts will go into effect because Democrats have not offered
alternatives, and remarks made by House Speaker John Boehner.
Boehner said in a Jan. 6 interview that he had the spending
cuts "in my back pocket" for use as a bargaining chip in budget
talks with the White House.
"It's not a game. It's the American economy," Carney said.
"The American people - those who pay attention to this issue in
detail - are rightly appalled by those kind of tactics that, you
know, do harm to their lives, do harm to the economy in the name
of ... achieving some political objectives here in Washington."
Despite a temporary truce over the "fiscal cliff" and
raising the debt ceiling, the White House and congressional
Republicans remain at odds over tax and spending measures, with
both sides agreeing that reducing the nation's massive budget
deficit is desirable but at loggerheads over how and how fast.
Obama and lawmakers were able to avoid a year end "fiscal
cliff" of deep automatic spending cuts known as the sequester
and tax increases at the end of 2012. Republicans agreed to
extend temporarily the U.S. capacity to borrow without demanding
spending cuts in return.
However the two sides still face the prospect of painful
across-the-board spending cuts in a month if they do nothing.
Carney cast the 0.1 pct decline in U.S. economic output in
the fourth quarter of last year - which was driven by the
deepest plunge in defense spending in 40 years - as an example
of how uncertainty over the government's fiscal plans hurt
"The GDP number we saw today was driven in part by, in large
part by a sharp decrease in defense spending," he said. "And at
least some of that has to do with the uncertainty created by the
prospect of sequester."
Republican aides responded by noting that the very idea of
sharp automatic cuts as a way to force negotiators to come to
terms was reportedly the White House's idea.
"These arbitrary, automatic cuts were a creation and demand
of the White House in 2011," Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck