President Obama, back from his three-day golf getaway, on Tuesday made use of his bully pulpit, while Congress remains out all week, to turn up the pressure for a bipartisan agreement to avoid indiscriminate across-the-board budget cuts that will otherwise hit March 1.
Speaking in a White House auditorium surrounded by blue-uniformed emergency responders to illustrate some of the jobs threatened if the cuts were to take effect, Mr. Obama warned that military readiness and vital domestic services would be hurt "if Congress allows this meat-cleaver approach to take place."
"Changes like this affect our responsibility to respond to threats in unstable parts of the world," the president said. "These cuts are not smart, they are not fair, they will hurt our economy, they will add hundreds of thousands of Americans to the unemployment rolls. This is not an abstraction — people will lose their jobs."
Some Republicans in Congress have proposed alternative savings that would spare any cuts in military spending but not in domestic accounts. Mr. Obama and Congressional Democrats are calling for a mix of spending cuts and additional tax revenues by closing some tax breaks for wealthy investors and corporations.
Mr. Obama's comments were among his harshest toward Republicans, and reflected the political frame that he has devised to try to force Republicans into compromising with him by supporting some higher revenues — something they so far refuse to do.
"The ideas that the Republicans have proposed ask nothing of the wealthiest Americans or biggest corporations, so the burden is all on first responders or seniors or middle-class families," Mr. Obama said, adding that those proposals would "slash Medicare and investments that create good middle-class jobs."
"So now Republicans in Congress face a simple choice," he added. "Are they willing to compromise to protect vital investments in education and health care and national security and all the jobs that depend on them, or would they rather put hundreds of thousands of jobs and our entire economy at risk just to protect a few special-interest tax loopholes that benefit only the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations?"
Republicans, seeking to put blame on Mr. Obama if the cuts occur, have repeatedly noted that the White House proposed the sequester idea during debt talks in mid-2011. But both parties overwhelmingly supported the proposal as part of their deal. And as Mr. Obama said on Tuesday, the purpose of the sequester was to threaten something so unthinkable that the two parties would come together to agree on an alternative.
The president's latest deficit reduction push comes as the heads of his 2010 deficit reduction commission — former Senator Alan K. Simpson and Erskine B. Bowles, a former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton — unveil a new plan that would reduce the deficit by $2.4 trillion through a series of spending cuts and an overhaul of the tax system.
When Congress returns from a winter recess next week, just days remain before the deadline for the so-called sequester of spending cuts, a deadline that already was moved once — at the start of the year — to allow more time for the two parties to negotiate.