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Obama signs order to begin spending cuts

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama has signed an order authorizing the government to begin cutting $85 billion from federal accounts, officially enacting across-the-board reductions that he had opposed but failed to avert.

Obama acted Friday, the deadline for the president and Congress to avoid the steep, one-year cuts.

Obama has insisted on replacing the cuts, known as a "sequester" in government budget language, with tax increases and cuts spread out over time. Republicans have rejected any plan that included tax revenue.

The government says the reductions will soon result in furlough notices to government employees and will trim government spending on defense contracts and in domestic government programs. Active military personnel and anti-poverty and low-income assistance programs are largely protected from the cuts.

Earlier Friday, Obama and Republican congressional leaders had refused to budge in their budget standoff.

"None of this is necessary," Obama said after an unproductive White House meeting.

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.

Republicans said they wanted deficit cuts, too, but not tax increases.

"The president got his tax hikes," House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters, a reference to a $600 billion increase on higher wage earners that cleared Congress on Jan. 1. Now, he said, it is time to take on "the spending problem here in Washington."

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky was equally emphatic. "I will not be part of any backroom deal, and I will absolutely not agree to increase taxes," he vowed in a written statement.

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.

"I'm hopeful that we won't have to deal with the threat of a government shutdown while we're dealing with the sequester at the same time," he said.

Obama said he, too, wanted to keep the two issues separate.

The Pentagon will absorb half of the $85 billion required to be sliced through the end of the budget year on Sept. 30, exposing civilian workers to furloughs and defense contractors to possible cancellations.

The administration also has warned in weeks and months to come of long lines at airports as security personnel are furloughed, of teacher layoffs in some classrooms and reduced maintenance at the nation's parks.

"The longer these cuts remain in place, the greater the damage to our economy -- a slow grind that will intensify with each passing day," he said. Much of the budget savings will come through unpaid furloughs for government workers starting next month.

Obama declared he couldn't perform a "Jedi mind meld" to sway opponents, mixing "Star Wars" and "Star Trek" for a science fiction metaphor.

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