Just hours after huge US government spending reductions officially took effect on March 2, President Barack Obama used his weekly address to criticise Congress for allowing them to go ahead. Obama and congressional leaders failed to agree on an alternative solution, so 85 billion dollars (65 billion euros) of cuts automatically kicked in at midnight.
President Obama said: “These cuts are not smart. They will hurt our economy and cost us jobs. And Congress can turn them off at any time – as soon as both sides are willing to compromise. Now, it’s important to understand that, while not everyone will feel the pain of these cuts right away, the pain will be real. Many middle-class families will have their lives disrupted in a significant way.”
The Pentagon is set to have its budget reduced by 46 billion dollars (35 billion euros). But Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel insisted on March 1 that national security would not be damaged, saying “America has the best fighting force in the world, capable of responding to any challenge”.
All the government departments affected will have to make the savings by the end of the budget year (September 30) if the current legislation stays in place.
At the heart of Washington’s regular fiscal showdowns is a disagreement over how to slash the budget deficit and the 16 trillion dollar national debt. The Democratic President wants to close the fiscal gap with a combination of cuts and tax hikes, but Republicans do not want to concede on raising taxes after doing so during New Year negotiations over how to avoid the US “fiscal cliff”.