WASHINGTON - A combative President Barack Obama blamed Republican lawmakers Friday for failing to stop automatic spending cuts that were to begin kicking in later in the day, calling the cuts "dumb, arbitrary."
Republicans said the fault was his, for insisting that increased taxes be part of the resolution.
The president said the impact of the cuts won't immediately be felt, but middle class families will begin to "have their lives disrupted in significant ways." He said that as long as the cuts stay in effect, Americans will know that the economy could have been better had they been averted.
"The pain, though, will be real," Obama said.
"This is not a win for anybody. This is a loss for the American people," he said.
Obama, pressed on whether he bears some of the responsibility for the stalemate, expressed frustration. "Give me an example of what I might do," he challenged reporters.
"I am not a dictator. I'm the president," he said. He added that he can't do a "Jedi mind-meld" or use any "special sauce" to get Republicans to negotiate.
"I can't force Congress to do the right thing," Obama said.
He said he still believed the cuts could be replaced but he wanted a deal that includes more tax revenue by closing "wasteful" loopholes. He said it may take a couple of weeks or couple of months to find a fix for the impasse.
"Let's be clear: None of this is necessary," Obama said. "It's happening because of a choice that Republicans in Congress have made. We shouldn't be making a series of dumb, arbitrary cuts to things."
Obama met at the White House Friday morning with House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.
Boehner's office said he and McConnell told Obama they're willing to close tax loopholes but only to lower taxes overall, not to replace spending cuts. Obama and congressional leaders have agreed that Congress should pass a bill funding the government beyond the end of March while they keep working on a way to replace the spending cuts, Boehner's office said.
"The president got his tax hikes on January 1st," Boehner said bluntly after the meeting with Obama. "The discussion about revenue in my view is over. It's about taking on the spending problem here in Washington."
On Thursday, two proposals aimed at blunting the blame over the cuts - one Democratic and the other Republican - were rejected in the Senate.
The meeting Friday was the first the two sides have had this year on the budget battle, and it lasted under an hour. Asked whether he couldn't get the parties in a room and stay there until they reach a deal, he noted that McConnell left the meeting early to catch a plane.
"I can't have Secret Service block the doorway," Obama said.
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