The reductions, which Obama formally ordered late Friday, are likely to remain in place for the foreseeable future. There had been speculation that they might be adjusted later this month, when lawmakers must agree on a new deal to fund the government or risk a shutdown. But Obama made clear Friday that he would seek to avoid a shutdown even if that means allowing the across-the-board cuts, known as the sequester, to continue.
The failure to reach a deal to turn off the sequester after years of clashes over spending and taxes will usher in an era of deeper austerity in the United States. To date, the country has resisted the sharp pullback in federal spending that has occurred in much of Europe.
The onset of the sequester also will introduce a new level of uncertainty for Americans who rely on the government for employment or services, with an outsize impact in the Washington region.
For Obama, the failure to reach a deal is a setback. He has spent years arguing that efforts to tame the nation’s debt should involve a balance of spending cuts and tax revenues. As things stand now, the onset of the sequester means that balance tilts heavily toward cuts.
Polls shows Obama has broad support among Americans for his approach to taxes and spending. Over coming weeks, senior administration officials said, he will highlight people and localities hurt by the sequester, with the intention of creating pressure to force Republicans to concede. But the president said that could take months.
“It’s happening because of a choice that Republicans in Congress have made,” Obama said in the White House briefing room after the meeting with congressional leaders broke up. “They’ve allowed these cuts to happen because they refuse to budge on closing a single wasteful loophole to help reduce the deficit.”
The GOP is able to say it defied the president, avoiding his demand for new tax revenue. The standoff comes after deep intraparty divisions nearly tore House Republicans apart late last year in battles about whether to support tax increases.
Republicans can say they have forced greater restraint in government spending — although it is far from the arrangement most GOP leaders wanted. Republican leaders have warned that the sequester could damage national defense and expressed frustration that it does not apply to social programs such as Medicaid and Social Security.
Nonetheless, they say the cuts are preferable to tax increases.
“Let’s make it clear that the president got his tax hikes on January 1st,” House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said outside the White House, referring to new taxes on the wealthy approved in January. “This discussion about revenue, in my view, is over. It’s about taking on the spending problem here in Washington.”