President Barack Obama urged state governors on Feb. 25 to pressure Congress to prevent $85 billion in across-the-board government spending cuts from going into effect on March 1, saying he is willing to reach a compromise with Republicans.
But the president gave no indication that he would try to start negotiations or take steps to blunt the effect of the cuts. He bemoaned what he described as a confrontational atmosphere in Washington, where budget battles have provoked one near crisis after another since the summer of 2011.
"Some people in Congress reflexively oppose any idea I put forward," he said before a meeting with governors at the White House.
Officials in his administration continued a week-long effort to portray what they describe as the dire consequences of the cuts to popular programs.
The latest warning came from Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, who said the cuts — known as a "sequestration" — threatened to slow research on cancer and Alzheimer's disease, and development of a new flu vaccine, among other things.
Meanwhile, Republican leaders in the House of Representatives have scheduled a brief news conference for 4 p.m. EST on Monday to discuss the cuts, but they are not expected to announce any new initiatives, according to a senior House Republican aide.
"Congress is poised to allow a series of arbitrary automatic budget cuts to kick in that will slow our economy, eliminate jobs and leave a lot of folks who are already pretty thinly stretched scrambling to figure what do," the president told the governors on Monday.
With the deadline drawing closer, Obama asked the governors, who are in Washington for their annual meeting, to persuade Congress to come to terms with the administration and break a stalemate over taxes and spending.
"While you are in town, I hope you will speak with your congressional delegation and remind them in no uncertain terms exactly what is at stake," the president said. "These cuts do not have to happen. Congress can turn them off any time with just a little bit of compromise."
The White House has sought to highlight in recent weeks in stark terms the disruptions that would result if the $85 billion in spending cuts go into effect as scheduled March 1.
Obama has asked Congress to buy more time for a broad budget deal with a short-term measure that boosts revenues by ending some tax breaks that benefit the wealthiest Americans.
But congressional Republicans have rejected his call for more tax revenues, saying their agreement in early January to let taxes rise for those earning above $450,000 a year was the only concession they are willing to make in the form of higher taxes.
Republicans have long sought deep government spending cuts, and while the sequestration was originally designed to be so harsh that it would force both sides to compromise, many lawmakers appear ready to let them go into effect.
Senate Democrats have put forward a plan that focuses on those tax loopholes, and this week Republicans are expected to propose alternatives.