President Obama to call for reversal of sequester cuts in budget plan

President Obama said Thursday that he's asking Congress to fully reverse the automatic spending cuts known as sequestration in his annual budget proposal, set to be released next week.

The sequestration cuts, triggered in 2013 when lawmakers were unable to strike an overall budget deal, have slashed federal military and domestic budgets. The White House argues that the cuts have held back economic growth and hurt the middle class.

"If Congress rejects my plan and refuses to undo these arbitrary cuts, it will threaten our economy and our military," Obama said in a blog post published Thursday. "Investments in key areas will fall to their lowest level in 10 years, adjusted for inflation, putting American research, education, infrastructure, and national security at risk."

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The president will press that case later Thursday in a speech to the House Democratic retreat in Philadelphia.

But while many in the president's party are likely to support his proposal to end sequestration, the plan got a chilly response from Republican leaders who have already dismissed the president's budget as dead on arrival.

“Republicans believe there are smarter ways to cut spending than the sequester and have passed legislation to replace it multiple times, only to see the president continue to demand tax hikes. Until he gets serious about solving our long-term spending problem it’s hard to take him seriously,” said Cory Fritz, a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio.).

Don Stewart, the deputy chief of staff for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), said the president's call to end sequestration was not a surprise.

"Previous budgets submitted by the president have purported to reverse the bipartisan spending limits through tax increases that the Congress — even under Democrats — could never accept," Stewart said.

The president's budget will again call for tax hikes on the wealthiest Americans and the elimination of loopholes used by corporations. But he's hoping that an appeal to "middle class economics" can give his plan new momentum.

"Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well?" Obama said in the blog post. "Or will we commit ourselves to an economy that generates rising incomes and rising chances for everyone who makes the effort?"

The budget will lay out how the president plans to pay for a slate of policy proposals rolled out in the State of the Union address, including his idea to provide two years of free community college tuition. The president's plan will also include sizable infrastructure improvements, guaranteed sick leave, tax cuts for middle-class families and new funding to treat chronic disease.

"These proposals are pragmatic; they're the types of things both parties should be able to support," Obama argued.

The White House has not confirmed or denied a report from Bloomberg suggesting that there will be a proposed overall increase of about 7 percent to the federal budget. But documents obtained by The Associated Press suggest that Obama will ask for an increase of about $38 billion to the Pentagon budget, which would be in line with such a hike.

Obama acknowledged Thursday that his ideas were likely to face resistance from Capitol Hill. But the president and White House officials have signaled their intention to play offense.

In his blog post, Obama challenged Republicans to propose alternative solutions to bolster the middle class.

"I know that there are Republicans in Congress who disagree with my approach, and I look forward to hearing their ideas for how we can pay for what the middle class needs to grow," he said. "But what we can't do is simply pretend that things like child care or college aren't important, or that there's nothing we can do to help middle class families get ahead."

A White House official said Obama would use his speech to House Democrats to ratchet up pressure on congressional Republicans to pass a “clean” bill funding the Department of Homeland Security through the remainder of the fiscal year.

The GOP is struggling to agree to a bill that would fund the agency by Feb. 27, when current funding expires. It’s an area where the White House sees a clear political advantage.

Obama is expected to seize on Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart's (R-Fla.) comment earlier this week that it was “not the end of the world” if the department was not funded, because many employees would be required to still report to work.

“The president will join the Democrats in Congress in vehemently opposing that dangerous view and calling for a clean funding bill to ensure we are funding our national security priorities in the face of cybersecurity and security threats abroad,” the White House official said.

— This story was updated at 11:41 a.m.