Carney said the White House wasn’t toning down its warnings because of concern that it had overstated the impact.
“It’s our responsibility to be upfront about the fact that you cannot responsibly cut $85 billion out of the budget in seven months without having dramatic effects on the defense industry and civilian workers, on our national security readiness, on teachers, on kids in Head Start,” he said.
The reductions probably will start going into effect Friday after Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill failed to reach a deal to halt them.
Republicans want to keep the same level of cuts but allow the government to choose where to trim. Democrats want to pass a package of smaller spending reductions and additional tax revenue. Democrats rejected the offer of flexibility, saying it wouldn’t help.
“The administration has clearly been beating the drum that it is going to be a budgetary Armageddon across the land, but given flexibility it may have far less impacts,” said Steve Ellis, the vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan budget-watchdog group.
The first round of reductions – postponed from January – is estimated to be $85 billion. The Congressional Budget Office predicts that agencies will reduce spending this year by about $44 billion, with the remaining cuts coming in future years.
Obama had a trio of Cabinet secretaries – transportation, homeland security and education – speak to reporters about the cuts. Some appeared on Sunday talk shows, calling the reductions painful and harsh, disruptive and destructive. In some cases, agencies such as the Federal Aviation Administration would have to pare spending to 2008 levels.
“Like the little boy who cried wolf, the White House has decided that if there isn’t a crisis, you can create one and take advantage of it,” wrote Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, the chairman of the Joint Economic Committee. “That sums up President Obama’s approach to the looming sequestration.”
Several female Democrats in the House of Representatives said the cuts would cause harm, citing programs for women and children as one top example.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the reductions would “cause unemployment, instability and uncertainty in our economy.”
A Washington Post-Pew poll released this week shows that 48 percent of people said they weren’t following the issue too closely or at all closely.
Republicans suggest that Obama was never really pushing Congress to act, but rather trying to blame Republicans ahead of the midterm 2014 elections.
Organizing for Action, an outside political group staffed by former Obama aides, is using the spending cuts to raise money. House Democrats already have started a series of paid phone calls in 23 districts held by Republicans.
Michael Dimock, of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, said Republicans were more likely to take the blame for slowing the economy because of the cuts. “If both sides lose, the Republicans are primed to lose more,” he said.