WHITE HOUSE —
U.S. President Barack Obama is blaming Republican lawmakers for failing to stop automatic government spending cuts that took effect Friday. He met with top Republican and Democratic lawmakers at the White House to discuss the issue.
Obama called the $85 billion in automatic cuts “dumb” and “arbitrary,” and he said Republicans could have stopped them.
“Let’s be clear. None of this is necessary. It is happening because [of] a choice that Republicans in Congress have made. They have allowed these cuts to happen because they refuse to budge on closing a single wasteful loophole to help reduce the deficit,” said the president.
Obama met earlier Friday with the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Also attending were Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and the leading House Democrat, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
They met for less than an hour and reached no agreement.
Obama wants to reduce the U.S. deficit by combining targeted spending cuts with higher taxes on wealthy Americans. Republicans oppose further tax increases.
U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner speaks briefly after a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House, March 1, 2013.
After the meeting, Boehner said the president obtained tax increases in their January 1 agreement, and the focus now must be on cutting spending.
“This discussion about revenue, in my view, is over. It is about taking on the spending problem here in Washington,” he said.
Obama and members of his team have been warning for days about the damage they say the cuts will cause to the U.S. economy, as he did Tuesday at a shipbuilding factory in Virginia. The president said the cuts will possibly cost as many as 750,000 jobs. He said the effects will not be felt immediately, but the pain will be real.
“We will get through this. This is not going to be an apocalypse, I think, as some people have said. It is just dumb. And it is going to hurt,” he said.
Obama, who has been criticized for failing to settle the dispute, said he cannot force Republican leaders to continue negotiating until a settlement is reached.
“I am not a dictator, I am the president. So, ultimately, if Mitch McConnell or John Boehner say, ‘We need to go to catch a plane,’ I cannot have Secret Service block the doorway,” said Obama.
The president said he still believed the cuts could be replaced, but it may take weeks or months.