WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House said Monday the automatic spending cuts starting to take place across the federal government, with no end in sight, represent an "empty victory" for Republicans at odds with the party's priorities.
White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters it's remarkable some Republicans are calling the so-called "sequester" a win for the conservative tea party, or because Republicans stood up to the president, because the cuts go against usual GOP goals to increase defense spending and border security. He also said the cuts do nothing to address Republican priorities for long-term deficit reduction or tax reform.
Obama "hopes that having achieved this empty victory, at least as they see it, the Republicans will understand that their goals are being unmet here," Carney told reporters at the White House. "So not only are Americans suffering from this, regular folks, but their objectives are being unmet and there's an opportunity to change that dynamic."
The Senate's Republican leader Mitch McConnell on Sunday called those cuts modest and House Speaker John Boehner said he isn't sure they will hurt the economy. White House economic adviser Gene Sperling says the pain isn't that bad — yet.
After months of dire warnings, the deep budget cuts have started taking hold and there's no evidence officials are moving to reverse the $85 billion in reductions.
"This modest reduction of 2.4 percent in spending over the next six months is a little more than the average American experienced just two months ago, when their own pay went down when the payroll tax holiday expired," McConnell said.
"I don't know whether it's going to hurt the economy or not," Boehner said. "I don't think anyone quite understands how the sequester is really going to work."
But Sperling cautioned: "On Day One, it will not be as harmful as it will be over time."
Both parties cast blame on the other for the automatic, across-the-board spending cuts but gave little guidance on what to expect in the coming weeks. Republicans and Democrats pledged to retroactively undo the cuts, but signaled no hints as to how that process would start to take shape. Republicans insisted there would be no new taxes and Democrats refused to talk about any bargain without them.
"That's not going to work," said Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H. "If we're going to increase revenue again, it's got to go to the debt with real entitlement reform and real tax reform when you actually lower rates. ... I'm not going to agree to any more tax increases that are going to go to increase more government."
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said any tax increases were unacceptable.
"I'm not going to do any more small deals. I'm not going to raise taxes to fix sequestration. We don't need to raise taxes to fund the government," Graham said.
All of this comes ahead of a new, March 27 deadline to deal with the question of funding the government and a debt-ceiling clash coming in May.
Obama has phoned lawmakers but it isn't clear to what end and the White House would not say whom Obama is calling.
Administration officials planned to criticize the cuts in appearances with those affected by them; Education Secretary Arne Duncan, for instance, planned to appear with school leaders who faced a leaner budget.
"Well, no one can think that that's been a success for the president," said Mitt Romney, Obama's unsuccessful rival in November's election. "He didn't think the sequester would happen. It is happening."
Obama and the Republicans have been fighting over federal spending since the opposition party regained control of the House of Representatives in the 2010 midterm elections. The budget cuts were designed in 2011 to be so ruthless that both sides would be forced to find a better deal, but they haven't despite two years to find a compromise.
The $85 billion in cuts apply to the remainder of the 2013 fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. But without a deal they will continue slashing government spending by about $1 trillion more over a 10-year period.
McConnell spoke to CNN's "State of the Union." Boehner was interviewed on NBC's "Meet the Press." Sperling appeared on ABC's "This Week," NBC and CNN. Ayotte appeared on ABC. Graham spoke with CBS' "Face the Nation." Romney was a guest on "Fox News Sunday."