28 Feb 2013

US budget cut deadline looms

8:14 am on 28 February 2013

It's now only a matter of days before the United States government will be forced to slash $US85 billion from the federal budget.

Massive automatic cuts will take place on Friday unless Democrats and Republicans in Congress can reach a deal.

President Barack Obama on Tuesday went to Newport News, Virginia, the home of major military bases, ports and shipbuilders that are likely to be hit with layoffs and delayed projects.

''This work, along with hundreds of thousands of jobs are currently in jeopardy because of politics in Washington,'' he said, adding that the effects will be felt far beyond the military.

However, Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R, Washington State) urged the president to get off the campaign trail and show some leadership.

"He's travelled over 5000 miles the last two weeks and we challenge him - Mr President, travel a mile and a half up here to Capitol Hill, sit down with (Senator) Harry Reid and urge the Senate Democrats to take action," she said.

"The president says that this is a bad idea, but yet he has not put forward an alternative idea."

Giving evidence at a congressional hearing, Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke encouraged politicians to avoid sharp spending cuts.

"The CBO (Congressional Budget Office) estimates that it would cost about 0.6% of growth in this year and the equivalent of about 750,000 jobs, and so it would be a drag on near term economic recovery," he warned.

The ABC reports President Obama earlier thought the spectre of dramatic cuts to the Defence Department would be enough to bring Republicans to a compromise. However, that is looking increasingly like a miscalculation.

"I just have to strongly disagree with the notion that we have some kind of severe austerity programme that's about to kick in," said Senator Pat Toomey (R).

"We have a federal government that's doubled in size in the last ten years - 100% growth in total spending. So we're talking less than 1.3% of federal spending and outlays that would be curbed.

As the deadline looms, the ABC says there are no planned meetings at all between the president and congressional leaders for the rest of the week.