But some Republicans have suggested that Obama has more flexibility than he is letting on, and that many Americans might not notice the impact of the sequester.
The stock market was unfazed, ending Friday flirting with record highs. Independent economists say the cuts are likely to slow growth and cost jobs, but the magnitude is less than in previous budget crises, such as the 2011 debt-limit battle.
The across-the-board cuts fall on the Defense Department and domestic agencies. Some major safety-net programs, including Medicaid and food stamps, are exempt. The president and Congress created the sequester in 2011 to force themselves to find smarter ways to reduce the deficit.
To replace the sequester, Obama demanded additional tax revenue this year as well as alternative cuts. Republicans declined to offer any new revenue.
The White House has been preoccupied with budget battles for more than two years, but Obama on Friday signaled a desire to move beyond the issue to pursue other priorities, such as immigration and gun control.
“The conversations that are taking place on a bipartisan basis around immigration reform are moving forward,” Obama said. “What I’m going to keep on trying to do is to make sure that we push on those things that are important to families. We won’t get everything done all at once, but we can get a lot done.”
Still, several major fiscal issues will linger. Republicans and Obama signaled a willingness Friday to continue to fund the government at sequester levels when a stopgap measure expires on March 27. Obama said that he expects a new stopgap measure to follow long-term spending caps agreed to in 2011, and that he would also abide by the sequester if an alternative is not found. “There’s no reason why we should have another crisis by shutting the government down,” Obama said.
Republicans plan to put forward a bill next week that would keep the government open past March, but fund it at the lower levels of sequestration.
But the truce could be upended if a group of conservatives get their way. Some conservatives are pressuring lawmakers to defund Obama’s health-care overhaul — an obvious red line for the White House.
Other looming potential battles include the need to raise the federal debt ceiling by midsummer and to find a way to fund the government past the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.
“This is not a win for anybody,” Obama said of the sequester. “This is a loss for the American people.”
The short-term impact of the cuts started to emerge across the country Friday as officials prepared for their enactment. Governors, including Virginia’s, received letters from top administration officials warning about how their states would be affected by the cuts.
The Pentagon’s two top officials held a news conference to reiterate their position that budget reductions of $46 billion this fiscal year could inflict lasting damage on military readiness. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said he was particularly worried about the toll the cuts will take on the workforce of the country’s largest bureaucracy.
“Our number one concern are our people,” he said. “I know these budget cuts will cause pain.”
Katie Savant, 35, wife of a Marine artillery captain stationed at Twentynine Palms in San Bernadino, Calif., said that like many of the military wives with whom she socializes, she is unsure and worried about the sequester’s impact. There’s lots of “speculation and rumors” flying around the base,” Savant said. “The uncertainty of it all adds this extra level of stress.”
In the Texas border town of El Paso, the local economy relies heavily on federal workers, according to El Paso Chamber of Commerce President Richard E. Dayoub. Customs and Border Protection, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI and the military all have a large presence there.
“Our community will face significant challenges because of the level of federal employees in this region,” Dayoub said. “If each one of those employees takes a 20 percent pay cut, that means not buying new cars and fewer nights our for dinner. It means less visits to the shopping mall.”
In addition to Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) attended Friday’s meeting.
William Branigin , Emily Heil, Rosalind Helderman, Josh Hicks, Ernesto Londoño, Lori Montgomery and Steve Vogel contributed to this report.
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