White House warns sequester will hurt middle class

Copies of President Barack Obama's fiscal 2013 federal budget arrive at the House Budget Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington on Feb. 13, 2012.
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

For months, President Obama has been urging Congress to offset the $1.2 trillion in sweeping spending cuts set to kick in on March 1. Now, with just three weeks left to act, the White House is pressing the fact that these across-the-board cuts would hurt the constituency that every politicians cares about: the middle class.

The so-called "sequester" cuts, the White House said in a fact sheet today, "threaten thousands of jobs and the economic security of the middle class will take effect. There is no question that we need to cut the deficit, but the President believes it should be done in a balanced way that protects investments that the middle class relies on."

Instead of letting the cuts go into effect, Jason Furman, principal deputy director of the National Economic Council, told reporters today that the White House wants Congress "buy the time it needs" to work out a comprehensive deficit and debt reduction package that includes entitlement reform and tax reform.

"The whole goal of buying that time is not for the sake of buying time," he said. "It's for the sake of buying time to do something that's a lot bigger and a lot better than the sequester in terms of entitlement reform, tax reform, stabilizing our deficit and ultimately the goal being creating jobs and economic growth."

The fact sheet the White House released lays out the way certain agencies could be impacted by the sequester cuts, which would amount to $85 billion this year.

Around 70,000 children would lose Head Start and Early Start services, the White House says, while cuts to Title I education funds would be eliminated for more than 2,700 schools. Additionally, cuts to special education funding would eliminate federal support for more than 7,200 teachers, aides, and other staff.

Small businesses, which lawmakers cast as the lifeblood of job creation, would lose up to $540 million in loan guarantees from the Small Business Administration. Emergency unemployment benefits, meanwhile, would be cut by as much as 9.4 percent.

Cuts to the Mental Health Block Grant program would result in over 373,000 seriously mentally ill adults and seriously emotionally disturbed children not receiving needed mental health services, the White House says.

The fact sheet lists a number of agencies -- including the IRS, the FBI and FEMA -- that would be less equipped to assist people.

Furman said that the effects would be immediate in some agencies and more gradual in others. "So there's no easy answer to say what the world is going to look like on March 2nd," he said. "We just know that these impacts -- while not all of them immediate -- if we don't take action, they will take place."