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“I am not a dictator, I’m the president. Ultimately, if Mitch McConnell or John Boehner say we need to go to catch a plane, I can’t have Secret Service block the doorway,” Obama told a news conference Friday, referring to his brief meeting on the budget crisis with the Republican leaders in the US Senate and the House of Representatives, respectively.
This latest budget crisis—called “sequestration”—is set to go into effect from midnight Friday (0500 GMT Saturday) and could force layoffs of hundreds of thousands of federal, state and local government employees in the coming months.
The automatic spending cuts would impact everything from defense spending to transportation, meat inspections, housing subsidies and government-funded child daycare centers.
Though the mandatory spending cuts take effect from Friday, economists say the brunt of the impact would not begin to be felt for months, leaving time for Republicans and Democrats to intensify their efforts to come up with a less drastic plan to address US budget woes.
“Let’s be clear—none of this is necessary. It’s happening because of a choice Republicans in Congress have made,” Obama told reporters. “They’ve allowed these cuts to happen because they’ve refused to budge on closing a single, wasteful loophole to help reduce the deficit.”
The cuts, which Obama called “dumb” and “arbitrary,” were established by US lawmakers in 2011 as a sort of budgetary axe set to fall on the entire federal government should Congress fail to implement more than $1 trillion in fiscal cuts in a more considered way.
On January 1, with two hours before a fiscal deadline was due to pass, Washington lawmakers announced that they had reached a deal on resolving most but not all of the issues that had created a budget crisis dubbed the fiscal cliff.
Although in technical terms the US does “go over the cliff”, the deal reached by the Obama administration and Republicans ensures that the negative impact on American taxpayers is minimised.