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Let The Cuts Begin: Sequestration Deadline Passes


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Sequestration is official. President Obama signed an executive order on spending late last night as required by law. He sent the order to Congress and that triggered budget cuts known as sequestration. Earlier in the day, the president met with congressional leaders and when they left without a deal, he took questions at the White House.

NPR's Ari Shapiro was there.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Before congressional leaders even arrived at the White House yesterday morning, Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell put out a statement saying: There will be no last-minute backroom deal. And as promised, they end of the meeting without any sign of progress. House Speaker John Boehner said the tax hikes President Obama wants won't happen.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: This discussion about revenue, in my view, is over. It's about taking on the spending problem here in Washington.

SHAPIRO: After President Obama said goodbye to his visitors, he faced reporters in the White House briefing room. He flatly ruled out the cuts-only approach that Boehner wants, saying that would be even worse than that the sequester.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The majority of the American people agree with me and this approach including, by the way, a majority of Republicans. We just need Republicans in Congress to catch up with their own party and their country on this.

SHAPIRO: Those have been the battle lines across a series of crises for years. Every previous time to parties have cut a deal but not now. So, let the cuts begin.

OBAMA: It's just dumb and it's going to hurt. It's going to hurt individual people and it's going to hurt the economy overall.

SHAPIRO: Obama said people might not feel the pain right away. It'll start with government workers, teachers, defense contractors, emergency responders. From there, he said it'll spread out to the rest of the economy. And he sounded angry at the suggestion that he's overstating the pain.

OBAMA: It's going to mean hundreds of thousands of jobs lost. That is real. We're not making that up. That's not a scare tactic. That's a fact.

SHAPIRO: Whatever the impact, the chance to prevent this sequester is gone. So now it's just a question of how much damage will be done and how soon it might be undone. It may be weeks, months or even years. Nobody sounds optimistic. Obama said there's no secret sauce they can use to make Republicans see eye-to-eye with him.

OBAMA: I think if there was a secret way to do that I would've tried it. I would've done it.

SHAPIRO: In an interview scheduled to run on "Meet the Press" tomorrow, speaker Boehner told NBC he sees no path forward either.

BOEHNER: If I did, this meeting at the White House this morning might have gone better.

SHAPIRO: Obama said he hopes Republicans just sort of change their minds.

OBAMA: You know, maybe they can say, you know what? We stuck tough on the sequester and this makes us feel good and the Republican caucus is in a better mood when they come back, maybe then we can have a more serious discussion about what the real problems on deficit and deficit reduction are.

SHAPIRO: But if nobody budges, things may have to get a lot worse before they get better.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.