The Washington Post

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama urged Congress Tuesday to delay for the rest of the year a series of automatic cuts to defense and other spending that is to take effect March 1.

Speaking with fresh urgency at the White House, surrounded by firefighters and other emergency personnel, Obama said the automatic cuts, known as the sequester, would damage the economy and cost hundreds of thousands of jobs.

"It will visit hardship on a whole lot of people," the president said.

He aimed much of his remarks at Republican lawmakers, who have repeatedly rejected any plan to stave off the sequester that includes tax hikes.

"So now Republicans in Congress face a simple choice," Obama said. "Are they willing to compromise to protect vital investment in education, health care, national security and all the jobs that depend on them? Or would they rather put hundreds of thousands of jobs and our entire economy at risk just to protect a few special-interest tax loopholes that benefit only the wealthiest Americans and the biggest corporations?"

Washington appears increasingly resigned to allowing the sequester to go ahead. The cuts, totaling $1.2 trillion over a decade, affect most domestic and defense programs, though they spare much of the social safety net.

Passed in 2011, the threatened cuts were supposed to force lawmakers to come to an agreement to reduce federal borrowing. But so far they have not able to do so.

Republicans rejected the speech as an attempt to shift blame for the spending cuts to the GOP. They said Obama's preferred solution -- alternative spending cuts paired with tax hikes -- was unacceptable.

"The president offered no credible plan that can pass Congress -- only more calls for higher taxes," House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said. "Just last month, the president got his higher taxes on the wealthy, and he's already back for more. The American people understand that the revenue debate is now closed."

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