WASHINGTON — Gridlocked once more, President Barack Obama and Republican congressional leaders refused to budge in their budget standoff Friday as $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts bore down on individual Americans and the nation's still-recovering economy. "None of this is necessary," said the president after a sterile White House meeting that portended a long standoff.
Obama formally enacted the reductions a few hours before the midnight deadline required by law.
The president met with top lawmakers for less than an hour at the White House, then sought repeatedly to fix the blame on Republicans for the broad spending reductions and any damage that they inflict. "They've allowed these cuts to happen because they refuse to budge on closing a single wasteful loophole to help reduce the deficit," he said, renewing his demand for a comprehensive deficit-cutting deal that includes higher taxes.
Republicans said they wanted deficit cuts, too, but not tax increases. "The president got his tax hikes on Jan. 1," House Speaker John Boehner told reporters, a reference to a $600 billion increase on higher wage earners that cleared Congress on the first day of the year. Now, he said after the meeting, it is time take on "the spending problem here in Washington."
At the same time they clashed, Obama and Republicans appeared determined to contain their disagreement.
Boehner said the House will pass legislation next week to extend routine funding for government agencies beyond the current March 27 expiration.
Obama declined to say if he bore any of the responsibility for the coming cuts, and expressed bemusement at any suggestion he had the ability to force Republicans to agree with him.
He also declared he couldn't perform a "Jedi mind meld" to sway opponents, mixing Star Wars and Star Trek as he reached for a science fiction metaphor.