Congressional Republican leaders rejected U.S. President Barack Obama's call for new spending cuts and "tax reforms" to head off looming across-the-board cuts.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., both said Obama's proposal that Congress pass "a balanced mix" of limited spending cuts and tax changes to delay the automatic cuts, known as the sequester, was a non-starter.
Without any action, the cuts, amounting to $1.2 trillion over a decade, are to take effect March 1. They were originally slated to go into effect Jan. 2, but Congress delayed them during December negotiations.
"Republicans have twice voted to replace these arbitrary cuts with common-sense cuts and reforms that protect our national defense," Boehner said in a statement. "We believe there is a better way to reduce the deficit, but Americans do not support sacrificing real spending cuts for more tax hikes."
McConnell said in a statement Obama, "who first proposed the sequester, and who just last year claimed that the sequester 'will not happen,' now wants to 'delay' the sequester for a few months with more permanent tax hikes at a time when American families are already feeling the pinch of the Obama economy."
Obama said during a debate in the fall with Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney the sequester "will not happen." On Tuesday, when he proposed the delay, he said it "doesn't have to happen."
Congressional Republicans blame Obama for first proposing the automatic cuts, The New York Times and The Washington Post said, although Congress passed the cuts, which affect domestic and defense spending, in the summer of 2011 as part of a deal to raise the nation's debt ceiling.
Republicans are warming to the idea of letting the sequester go forward because it at least guarantees sharp spending cuts, the Post said.
Obama said Tuesday Congress should delay the automatic cuts for several months to give lawmakers time to negotiate a full deficit-reduction package that permanently resolves the sequester's threat.
"If Congress can't act immediately on a bigger package, if they can't get a bigger package done by the time the sequester is scheduled to go into effect, then I believe that they should at least pass a smaller package of spending cuts and tax reforms that would delay the economically damaging effects of the sequester for a few more months until Congress finds a way to replace these cuts with a smarter solution," Obama said in the White House briefing room.
"There is no reason" to put at risk "the jobs of thousands of Americans" that would be lost if sequestration goes into effect, Obama said.
The president said the economy had begun to recover, but he said persistent clashes over taxes and spending threatened to delay or derail the recovery.
"We've made progress. And I still believe that we can finish the job with a balanced mix of spending cuts and more tax reform," Obama said.
He didn't say what spending cuts and tax adjustments he wanted. He has often said cuts in spending must be balanced with new tax revenue by closing loopholes for wealthy Americans and for the oil and gas industries, which have special tax advantages.
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