Republicans fought back by seeking to portray Obama as the mastermind of the spending reductions, known as the sequester, thereby making him responsible for any damage they cause to the military and the economy.
The escalating efforts are a reflection of how crucial the sequester has become in the long-running debate over the size and scope of the federal government.
No matter how the idea came about, the $1.2 trillion in cuts to defense and domestic spending will nevertheless serve as a high-profile test of the deep reductions in federal spending that have been a hallmark of Republican economic thinking for years.
If the cuts are instituted and Americans do not see them as a major problem, that could serve as an affirmation of the GOP view that the government is unnecessarily big and a hindrance to private-sector growth. If there is a significant backlash, public sentiment is likely to shift toward the Democrats, who generally see the government as a positive force.
The sequester is the result of a summer 2011 deal between Obama and Congress that was designed to be so distasteful that it would compel lawmakers to agree on a broader framework to tame federal borrowing.
That hasn’t happened. And with no recent communication between the White House and congressional Republicans, much of Washington seems resigned to the cuts taking effect March 1.
The deal requires the government to dramatically trim spending on a wide range of domestic programs, including education as well as research and development. It would lead to the furlough of thousands of workers, officials say. And it would also sharply reduce spending at the Pentagon — a prospect that would help stabilize the federal debt over the next decade but that also creates deep anxiety among military leaders.
Macroeconomic Advisers, an independent economic group, said Tuesday that sequestration would cost 700,000 jobs and push the unemployment rate a quarter of a percentage point higher than it otherwise would have been.
The group said in its analysis that the cuts would be a significant economic hit, given that taxes have already gone up this year and “with the economy still struggling to overcome the legacy of the Great Recession.”
Obama said he prefers to delay the sequester through the end of the year by trimming other spending, such as farm subsidies, and raising more money by limiting breaks and loopholes that favor top earners and select industries, such as oil and gas companies.