* Automatic cuts would hit law enforcement, food programs
* Could have "severe impact" on military preparedness-Obama
* White House presses Congress to put off sequestration
* Republicans look for plan from president
By Mark Felsenthal and Roberta Rampton
WASHINGTON, Feb 8 The White House said on Friday
that government spending cuts due to take effect March 1 would
have harsh consequences for ordinary Americans and the U.S.
economy, seeking to turn up pressure on Congress to come up with
a plan to avoid what Washington calls "sequestration."
President Barack Obama said the spending cuts could weaken
U.S. military preparedness.
"There is no reason, no reason for that to happen," Obama
said at a farewell ceremony for Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
"Putting our fiscal house in order calls for a balanced
approach, not massive, indiscriminate cuts that could have a
severe impact on our military preparedness," he said.
In its strongest warnings yet, the White House separately
gave examples of what it said program cuts would mean: 1,000
fewer FBI officers, mass layoffs of government meat and food
inspectors, and aid benefits slashed for hundreds of thousands
of low-income women and children.
"Sequester is a blunt and indiscriminate instrument that
poses a serious threat to our national security, domestic
priorities and the economy," Danny Werfel, a senior official at
the White House budget office, told reporters at a briefing.
"It does not represent a responsible way to achieve deficit
reduction," he said.
The administration repeated its plea to Congress to put off
the planned reductions, which the White House said would slash
non-defense programs by 9 percent across the board and defense
programs by 13 percent in the current fiscal year, resulting in
"furloughs," or temporary layoffs, for hundreds of thousands of
White House economic aide Jason Furman said it was up to
Congress to work out the details of how to raise revenues and
cut spending so both sides have time to agree on how replace the
sequester with a more acceptable fiscal belt-tightening program.
"What we're trying to do now is make sure Congress can buy
the time it needs in order to do this entitlement reform, tax
reform, that's a much better solution to our problems than
letting the sequester hit," Furman said.
Republicans said that while they agree sequestration could
be devastating, the president must propose spending cuts if he
wants to see the deep automatic cuts replaced with something
"Spending is still the problem," said Brendan Buck, a
spokesman for House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner.
"It's time to finally make the cuts and reforms we all know are
needed to save and strengthen our safety net programs."
Republican aides said there had been no outreach from the
White House to senior members of their party on the sequester.
"Not a peep," a Senate Republican leadership aide said.
LEGACY OF 2011 BUDGET BATTLES
Sequestration is a legacy of the 2011 impasse between Obama
and congressional Republicans over raising the nation's debt
limit. Republicans, unhappy about the nation's deficit, wanted
to match any increases in the borrowing cap with cuts to
The president balked at cutting social safety net programs,
and the nation came close to defaulting on its debt as a deal
eluded negotiators. The two sides finally agreed to raise the
debt ceiling but vowed to continue negotiating to cut the
deficit, setting up a deadline for the painful automatic
sequestration cuts as an incentive to come to terms.
The automatic cuts were reportedly suggested by the White
House but were agreed to by both sides. The spending reductions
are divided equally among nondefense and defense programs in an
effort to make politicians at both ends of the political
spectrum feel the pressure to compromise.
The long period of fiscal skirmishing between Obama and
congressional Republicans has been blamed by economists for
creating a drag on the sluggish U.S. economic recovery because
it leaves businesses and consumers uncertain about tax rates and
government spending plans.
Defense spending fell sharply at the end of last year, in
part because of fiscal uncertainty, contributing to a
contraction of the overall economy in the quarter.
Obama's November re-election and gains by Democrats in both
houses of Congress have strengthened the president's hand in
The two sides were able to avoid an initial year-end
deadline for spending cuts with a deal that raised taxes on the
wealthiest while leaving lower rates in place for most
Americans. The deal to avoid the so-called "fiscal cliff"
postponed automatic cuts for two months.
NEW REVENUE, TARGETED CUTS
Cutting government spending remains a high priority for
Republicans, who still control the House of Representatives.
However, the White House pushed back on Friday by painting a
dire picture of what would happen if the automatic cuts were
allowed to go into effect.
Obama wants Republicans to agree to a short-term budget
package to avoid the deepest of the automatic spending cuts but
has said it needs to be "balanced" - that is, include some
increases in revenue from closing tax loopholes. Boehner has
said he would block any delay in those cuts unless other
spending cuts and reforms are agreed to.
Key Democratic U.S. senators are discussing a plan that
could be introduced next week to turn off the sequester for 10
months, through Dec. 31, and pay for it half with new revenues
and half with spending cuts, a Democratic Senate aide said.
While no elements have been decided upon yet, provisions
under discussion include ideas Democrats have raised before,
such as raising taxes on carried interest, a provision aimed at
wealthy investors who profit from hedge funds and private equity
Tax breaks for corporate jets and large oil companies could
also be targeted, along with higher payroll taxes on smaller
private firms organized as S-corporations. The senators are also
considering reductions in farm subsidies, which they consider a
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid discussed the plan on
Thursday with Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray,
Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus and Appropriations
Committee Chairman Barbara Mikulski.