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President Barack Obama urged Congress to make a deal to avert the upcoming sequestration cuts on Tuesday, sternly warning that taking a “meat-cleaver” approach to the budget “won’t help the economy, won’t create jobs, and will mean hardship for a whole lot of people.”

Speaking before dozens of first responders in the White House, President Obama reminded Congress that it deliberately designed the $85 billion in immediate cuts to be so painful that they would force legislators to negotiate a broad budget deal to avoid them.  He then laid out some of the specific consequences if the cuts take effect starting next Friday, warning that sequestration “will jeopardize our military readiness” and “eviscerate jobs and energy and medical research.”

“Thousands of teachers and educators will be laid off,” Obama continued. “Tens of thousands of parents will have to scramble to find childcare for their kids. Hundreds of thousands of Americans will lose access to primary care and preventive care, like flu vaccinations and cancer screenings.” He also singled out border patrol, FBI agents, and federal prosecutors as certain victims of the severe cuts.

“These cuts are not smart, they are not fair,” Obama said. “This is not an abstraction; people will lose their jobs.”

Obama then called on Congress to avoid sequestration, but warned that he would only sign a balanced deal.

“I am willing to cut more spending,” Obama said, but “I will not sign a plan that harms the middle class.”

The statement was a clear rebuke of congressional Republicans, whose position on the cuts — as articulated by House Speaker John Boehner — is that “the sequester will be in effect until there are cuts and reforms that put us on a path to balance the budget in the next 10 years.” Combined with the GOP’s refusal to consider new revenues in a deal, Boehner’s position would necessarily result in cuts totaling between one-sixth to one-third of the federal government.

“Are you willing to see a bunch of emergency responders lose their jobs because you want to protect some special interest tax loophole?” Obama asked Republicans.

The president’s more aggressive tone does not appear to have moved Republicans closer to his position. Before Obama had even concluded his remarks, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell released a statement saying “Today’s event at the White House proves … Obama still prefers campaign events to common-sense, bipartisan action.”

Photo credit: AP/Charles Dharapak

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