WASHINGTON, Feb. 23 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama said Saturday the nation's top priority should be economic growth and job creation, but Congress is set to "do the exact opposite."
In his weekly radio and Internet address, the president said across-the-board federal spending cuts scheduled to take effect March 1 can be avoided, but Congressional Republicans "have decided that instead of compromising -- instead of asking anything of the wealthiest Americans -- they would rather let these cuts fall squarely on the middle class."
"Congress can turn them off anytime with just a little compromise," he said. "They can pass a balanced plan for deficit reduction. They can cut spending in a smart way, and close wasteful tax loopholes for the well-off and well-connected."
Obama said the United States "should be doing everything we can to grow our economy and create good, middle class jobs."
"And yet, less than one week from now, Congress is poised to allow a series of arbitrary, automatic budget cuts that will do the exact opposite," the president said. "They will slow our economy. They will eliminate good jobs. They will leave many families who are already stretched to the limit scrambling to figure out what to do."
Obama said allowing spending cuts to proceed will result in the layoffs of "thousands of teachers and educators" and jeopardize security and traffic control at airports.
"Already, the threat of these cuts has forced the Navy to delay the deployment of an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf -- affecting our ability to respond to threats in an unstable part of the world," the president said. "And just this week, the Pentagon announced that if these cuts go through, almost 800,000 defense employees -- the equivalent of every person in Miami and Cleveland combined -- will be forced to take unpaid leave."
Obama said his proposal for debt reduction "requires Democrats and Republicans to meet halfway" and said he is "hopeful" congressional Republicans will change their mind about allowing the cuts to proceed.
"I believe we should work together to build on the more than $2.5 trillion in deficit reduction we've already achieved," he said. "But I believe we should do it in a balanced way -- with smart spending cuts, entitlement reform and tax reform."