President Obama warned in his weekly address that the sequester would deal a "huge blow to middle-class families and our economy as a whole" and urged Congress to strike a compromise deal to avert the $85 billion in automatic cuts.
The president devoted a significant amount of his address to outlining the real-world consequences that would result if the sequester was implemented. On Friday, top administrative aides warned the cuts would hamper law enforcement, hurt federal education programs, withhold mental health services and furlough thousands of workers.
"If the sequester is allowed to go forward, thousands of Americans who work in fields like national security, education or clean energy are likely to be laid off," Obama said. "Firefighters and food inspectors could also find themselves out of work – leaving our communities vulnerable. Programs like Head Start would be cut, and lifesaving research into diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s could be scaled back."
Obama also warns that the cuts could impact the nation's military readiness.
"As our military leaders have made clear, changes like this affect our ability to respond to threats in an unstable part of the world," the president said.
In a statement Friday, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard McKeon (R-Calif.) blasted Obama after a fact sheet released by the White House on the impact of the sequester did not include information about potential defense cuts.
"Today the White House finally broke their silence on the consequences President Obama's sequester would have on domestic spending. I wouldn't downplay those important impacts, but I was stunned at the President's silence on national security risks and I am frustrated that he continues to look to our men and women in uniform to pay the cost of America's debt crisis," McKeon said in a statement. "After all, it is their lives that are at greater risks today, because of the cuts already imposed."
Although Obama warns of the dire impact of the proposed cuts, neither he nor congressional Republicans seems particularly willing to give ground in the fight over the sequester. The White House has proposed replacing the automatic reductions with a mixture of spending cuts and the elimination of certain tax loopholes and deductions. But House Republicans have said that they already conceded to tax increases during the "fiscal cliff" negotiations, and prefer a package that only includes spending cuts.
In his address Saturday, Obama again stressed his desire for a "balanced" plan.
"The current Republican plan puts the burden of avoiding those cuts mainly on seniors and middle-class families," Obama said. "They would rather ask more from the vast majority of Americans and put our recovery at risk than close even a single tax loophole that benefits the wealthy."
On Friday, congressional Republicans said the onus to face tough spending cuts and entitlement reforms.
“We know the President’s sequester will have consequences," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in a statement. "What we don’t know is when the President will propose a plan to replace the sequester with smarter spending cuts and reforms.”