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President Barack Obama cranked up the blame game Tuesday over "meat cleaver" budget cuts due in 10 days, painting a dire picture of damage looming for the US economy and accusing Republicans of refusing to deal.
Obama surrounded himself with uniformed emergency workers who he said risked losing their capacity to respond to distress calls when stinging billion-dollar cuts known as the "sequester" come into force on March 1.
"If Congress allows this meat cleaver approach to take place, it will jeopardize our military readiness, it will eviscerate job-creating investments in education and energy and medical research," Obama said.
Emergency responders' will see their ability to respond to disasters degraded, border patrol agents will see their hours reduced and FBI agents will be furloughed, he said.
"Federal prosecutors will have to close cases and let criminals go," he said. "Air traffic controllers and airport security will see cutbacks ... Thousands of teachers and educators will be laid off."
The slashing cuts to defense and domestic spending were mandated by an agreement between Obama and Republican foes to end a previous budget row.
The consequences of the device, known as the "sequester," were supposed to be so punishing that Democrats and Republicans would have no choice but to reach a deal to reduce the deficit.
But such is the partisan anger in Washington, no deal has been reached, and most observers now expect the cuts to happen, prompting both sides to deploy a blame game approach to prepare the way for a post-sequester showdown.
Obama wants a "balanced" mix of spending cuts and tax revenue increases achieved by closing loopholes used by the wealthy to cut the US deficit, and says he will not sign a bill that harms the middle class.
Republicans who lost a previous showdown with Obama over raising tax rates for the rich, say the debate over raising taxes is closed.
They say they are willing to close loopholes, but only in the context of a sweeping reform of the tax code, and maintain Obama wants to use the proceeds from any immediate revenue rises for more bloated government spending.
"Just last month, the president got his higher taxes on the wealthy, and he's already back for more," House Speaker John Boehner said.
"The American people understand that the revenue debate is now closed. We should close loopholes and carve-outs in the tax code, but that revenue should be used to lower rates across the board."