Barack Obama pressures Congress to avert austerity measures
US President Barack Obama called Tuesday for Congress to take immediate steps to avert federal spending cuts, which will take effect next week unless postponed or eased by lawmakers, DPA reported.
Obama argued that the March 1 cuts would damage the US economy, amid lagging growth and stubborn unemployment of 7.9 per cent.
"That's why it's so troubling that just 10 days from now, Congress might allow a series of automatic, severe budget cuts to take place that ... won't help the economy, won't create jobs, will visit hardship on a whole lot of people," Obama said.
He called on Congress to act, noting his "door was open" for talks and that he was willing to forge a short-term deal that would allow lawmakers more time to reach a compromise.
Republican John Boehner, speaker of the opposition-led House of Representatives, said that the current law was "the wrong way to cut spending" and pointed to a Republican plan to replace the looming cuts. He dismissed Obama's efforts as simply an excuse to raise more taxes without taking spending cuts seriously.
"Spending is the problem - spending must be the focus," he said. "Washington Democrats' newfound concern about the president's sequester is appreciated, but words alone won't avert it. Replacing the president's sequester will require a plan to cut spending that will put us on the path to a budget that is balanced in 10 years."
Congress is in recess until next week.
The across-the-board cuts would damage important government programmes, hurting the military, education and research without regard to where cuts are actually needed, Obama warned.
The so-called sequester, a package of automatic budget cuts passed in August 2011, was intended by Congress to pressure itself to forge 10-year austerity measures worth 1.2 trillion dollars.
The across-the-board cuts were initially scheduled to go into effect January 1, but were shelved for two months as part of a deal that included tax hikes on the wealthy.
Some Republicans have indicated that despite their concerns about large defence spending cuts, they were open to allowing the cuts to take effect to reduce what they see as other wasteful spending.
"We've got a few days. Congress can do the right thing," Obama said. "We can avert just one more Washington-manufactured problem, that slows our recovery, and bring down our deficits in a balanced, responsible way."