Trying to ratchet up pressure on Congress, the White House on Friday detailed what it said would be the painful impact on the federal workforce and certain government assistance programs if "large and arbitrary" scheduled government spending cuts are allowed to take place beginning March 1.
They include layoffs or furloughs of "hundreds of thousands" of federal workers, including FBI agents, U.S. prosecutors, food safety inspectors and air traffic controllers, said White House budget officials at a briefing and in a fact sheet that included these examples of what the cuts would mean:
— About 70,000 young children would be kicked off Head Start, 10,000 teacher jobs would be put at risk and up to 2,100 food safety inspections might have to be canceled.
—Up to 373,000 "seriously mentally ill adults and seriously emotionally disturbed children" would go untreated, up to 1,000 fewer National Science Foundation research grants and effecting some 12,000 scientists and students could be threatened, many small business loans denied, workplace safety inspections curtailed, federally assisted programs like "Meals on Wheels" slashed and 125,000 low-income renters put at risk of losing government-subsidized housing.
— Approximately 424,000 fewer HIV tests could be conducted by state agencies working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and some 100,000 formerly homeless people, including veterans, would be removed from their current housing and emergency shelter programs.
The White House said the so-called mandatory sequester cuts represent a threat to national security and the economy.
"There is no reason — no reason — for that to happen," President Barack Obama said Friday.
The spending cuts were originally to take place beginning Jan. 1, but were put off until March 1 in a last-minute deal between Obama and Congress to avert a New Year's "fiscal cliff" of tax hikes and spending cuts.
At issue are $1.2 trillion of additional spending cuts over the next 10 years, including about $85 billion this year.
Obama has called for a small package of spending cuts and measures to close tax loopholes and put off the deadline again.
But Republicans have so far said no.
"We agree the sequester is the wrong way to cut spending," Brendan Buck, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, said Friday. But he added: "The president got his higher taxes on the wealthy last month— with no corresponding cuts. The tax issue has been resolved."
White House press secretary Jay Carney dismissed such arguments as "convenient spin, but it's also a lot of baloney."
Administration budget officials said the list of proposed cuts was compiled by the various federal agencies that would be responsible for carrying them out — and not dictated by the White House.
In the Senate, majority-party Democrats are discussing ways to raise new revenues and curb spending to replace the cuts and aiming for a vote just before March 1. They want to cut spending as well, including direct payments to farmers that are seen as hard to defend.
"It should be a mixture," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
Ideas for increasing tax revenue include a minimum tax rate for millionaires, eliminating a tax perk on corporate jets and closing a loophole that allows wealthy people to avoid paying Social Security and Medicare taxes on some of their income.
But the Democratic effort seems sure to be blocked by Republicans, who are dead set against additional tax revenue after yielding to Obama during the fiscal cliff negotiations and agreeing to raise tax rates on the wealthiest Americans. Obama got the tax increases he wanted — with no corresponding spending cuts.
House Republicans are divided between defense hawks hoping to avert Pentagon cuts and tea-party conservatives who back the sequester.
Boehner, R-Ohio, says the sequester was all Obama's idea in the 2011 negotiations that produced it, but the House speaker hasn't committed to an effort to block the spending cuts before they strike.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, praised the administration for releasing "compelling information" on the impact of the spending cuts.
"The impacts of sequester are devastating to the American people and the American economy. The public has a right to understand how sequester would impact middle-class families, jobs and the economy," she said in a statement.
Associated Press writers Darlene Superville and Andrew Taylor contributed to this report.
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