In a March 1 press conference, President Barack Obama appeared to lecture journalists on the differences between the three branches of the federal government while also lambasting Congressional Republicans over the current impasse over the so-called budget "sequester.' Obama heaped blame on Republicans for the deadlock in Congress to avert the looming automatic spending cuts that are intended to address the federal deficit. He warned that failure in bridging the gap between Democrats and Republicans on spending cuts and deficit reduction will have a "ripple effect" on the U.S. economy and hurt the middle class.
Earlier on March 1, Obama met with Republican and Democrat congressional leaders on the budget. Obama said he hoped that Republicans will return for further negotiations, while forecasting that this would take two weeks to two months. Obama rejected a journalist's suggestion that Republicans could be forced to remain at the White House until they reach an agreement. "I'm not a dictator, I'm the president," he said.
Obama said he will seek to reach out to a "caucus of common sense" in Congress while seeking compromise in coming days and weeks once the cuts start taking effect later on March 1. Obama wants Republicans to agree to eliminate certain tax loopholes to help reduce the U.S. budget deficit. Republicans have ruled out raising taxes and want spending cuts instead.
Obama said polls suggest a majority of Americans agree with him on the budget. "We just need Republicans in Congress to catch up with their own party and the country on this," he said.
Put in place during a bout of deficit-reduction fever in 2011, the automatic cuts can only be halted by agreement between Congress and the White House. Failure to reach a compromise may mean that the federal government will chop off a total of $85 billion its budgets between March 2 and October 1. Financial markets in New York shrugged off the stalemate in Washington. Democrats in Congress predict the cuts, known as "sequestration," could soon cause air traffic delays, furloughs for hundreds of thousands of federal employees and disruption to education.
While the International Monetary Fund warned that the austerity could slow U.S. economic growth by at least 0.5 of a percentage point this year, that is not a huge drag on an economy that is picking up steam. Continental Europe and the United Kingdom are also showing a slowdown. While Europe is sliding into recession because of its austerity measures, some analysts say, the UK is also experiencing recession without equivalent austerity measures.
Obama appears resigned to government budgets shrinking. "Even with these cuts in place, folks all across this country will work hard to make sure that we keep the recovery going, but Washington sure isn't making it easy," he said after his meeting with congressional leaders. The fundamental disagreement between the parties is over the best means of slashing the budget deficit and the $16 trillion national debt, which has been bloated by social programs and foreign wars. Currently, for example, the U.S. spends approximately $28 million every day for the war in Afghanistan. Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz of Utah suggested that this would be an area where Obama can show some leadership by pulling the plug on spending in the conflictive country. Interviewed by Fox News host Greta Van Sustern, Chaffetz said that spending projected for Afghanistan alone is $100 billion.