President Obama on Tuesday urged Congress to pass a short-term package of spending cuts and tax increases to avert a series of even larger spending cuts set to take effect next month, a development the president contends would damage a fragile economy.
Republicans countered that the White House proposal was dead on arrival on Capitol Hill.
Obama is looking to put off for a few more months the so-called sequester, a $1.2 trillion package of across-the-board budget cuts. The Pentagon would incur roughly half of those reductions in spending, which is a particular concern to the Washington region.
"The good news is this doesn't have to happen," Obama told reporters during a short appearance in the White House Briefing Room. "There is no reason that the jobs of thousands of Americans who work in national security or education or clean energy -- not to mention the growth of the entire economy -- should be put in jeopardy."
The president's argument was more philosophical than detailed. He didn't outline an actual proposal. But the White House would like to close tax loopholes and eliminate certain tax deductions for wealthy individuals and corporations.
The call for more tax increases, however, did not sit well with Republicans, who say the president should focus solely on reducing government spending -- and that Obama already pushed through tax increases for the wealthiest Americans earlier this year.
"President Obama first proposed the sequester and insisted it become law," said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. "We believe there is a better way to reduce the deficit, but Americans do not support sacrificing real spending cuts for more tax hikes."
Added Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., "Every day spent talking about 'corporate jets' is a day wasted, and given that the president again missed the deadline to submit a budget this year, there's not much time to spare. The clock is ticking. It's time to get serious."
The White House contends that lawmakers don't have enough time to reach a "balanced" solution to the sequester before the March 1 deadline. Congress agreed to delay the sequester spending cuts by two months to avoid the "fiscal cliff" at the start of the year, but lawmakers and Obama have still not struck the deficit reduction deal that would avert the deeper cuts.
However, a growing number of Republicans have expressed a willingness to allow the deep spending cuts to kick in, saying the country needs to make a down payment on its $16.4 trillion national debt. And some Democrats conceded that Obama doesn't have the same leverage as when Washington leaders reached the current accord in January.
"It's going to be difficult to get Republicans to go down that path again," said an aide to a Democratic senator. "They are still reeling from the last fight. It's kind of amazing how many of them seem open to just eating the sequester."
The revival of the fiscal feud between the White House and Republican lawmakers comes as the Congressional Budget Office announced an expected deficit of $845 billion for 2013, the first shortfall below $1 trillion since Obama took office.
Obama insists he remains committed to deficit reduction and that his previous offer to Boehner to bring down the national debt remains on the table. But he added, "We can't just cut our way to prosperity."