White House officials issue sequestration warning to Congress (again)

Rachel Rose Hartman
The Ticket

Looming across-the-board spending cuts known as the sequester would devastate the middle class and the U.S. economy as a whole, White House officials warned on Friday as the administration continued its public campaign to pressure Congress to act before the sequester kicks in on March 1.

"Sequester is a blunt and indiscriminate instrument that poses a serious threat to our national security, domestic priorities, and the economy. And it does not represent a responsible way to achieve deficit reduction," Danny Werfel, federal controller for the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), told reporters on Friday during an off-camera briefing at the White House.

Jason Furman, principal deputy director of the National Economic Council, and Jay Carney, White House press secretary, were also present at the briefing, which was held three days after President Barack Obama publicly requested that Congress pass a short-term budget fix to avoid the sequester in the absence of a complete budget deal. Republicans used the president's request to accuse him of delaying real deficit and debt solutions.

Werfel said that the sequester would have "severe" impacts on defense—a major concern for many lawmakers who would prefer to see the sequester replaced by calculated spending cuts that protect defense. Werfel also emphasized the sequester's impact on the middle class, highlighting cuts to the Head Start early childhood education program, as well as threats to food safety, FBI and other government job cuts, and research grant cuts.

Werfel said sequestration overall would result in a 9 percent reduction for nondefense programs and a 13 percent reduction for defense programs, according to the OMB.

Furman sounded the alarm for the sequester's potentially negative economic impacts, which the White House claims Republicans are largely dismissing, saying that those who believe the sequester "is spending cuts" is "programmatically" and "macroeconomically" damaging and also "misses a really huge opportunity for this country—one that I think Democrats and Republicans should be able to agree is a better approach than this type of blunt, mindless, bad-policy approach."

But many Republican leaders in Congress have made clear they also dislike the sequester, pushing back in what is quickly becoming a blame game over who is responsible for budget breakdowns in Washington.

From Speaker John Boehner's website on Friday:

Today the White House released a detailed report outlining the consequences of the sequester proposed by and insisted on by President Obama. But the question remains: what is President Obama willing to DO to prevent it? Republicans agree the sequester is the wrong way to cut spending, and agree the consequences are harmful. That’s why Republicans have twice passed legislation to replace it with common sense cuts and reforms. But without a plan to prevent his sequester, the president is out of excuses.

Republicans (even though many of them voted for the "fiscal cliff" deal) on Friday once again accused the White House of creating the sequester. "Reminder: Sequester ‘Originated In The White House,'" the Senate Republican communications office emailed on Friday.