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Obama pins cuts blame on Republicans as sequestration looms

President uses weekly address to warn that impending budget cuts will ‘slow economy and eliminate jobs’

President Barack Obama issued a stark warning on Saturday that the looming sequestration budget cuts will have a devastating impact on the American economy and even threaten national security.

Obama used his weekly address to make a blunt and pointed speech, pinning the blame for the situation squarely at the doors of Republicans in Congress, whom he said were refusing to compromise on the issue of taxing the wealthy and so scuppering any chance of a deal to avoid potential disaster.

“[The cuts] 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.

Cuts to defence and social programmes totalling $85bn are set to hit almost every part of the US government, from national parks to the military to schools and the transportation system. They were put in place after 2011’s row over raising the budget ceiling, in an attempt to force lawmakers to find a less onerous ways to reduce deficits and stabilize the national debt. Both sides failed to find an alternative, however, leaving the cuts to kick in at the end of next week.

Obama laid out exactly how the cuts will hurt the fragile American economic recovery. “Once these cuts take effect, thousands of teachers and educators will be laid off and tens of thousands of parents will have to scramble to find childcare for their kids. Air traffic controllers and airport security will see cutbacks, causing delays across the country,” the president said.

That warning echoed fears voiced by the transportation secretary Ray LaHood, a former Republican congressman, who on Friday called for the two parties to work together to head off the cuts. LaHood warned of delays to air travel of 90 minutes and said the majority of 47,000 Federal Aviation Authority employees would be furloughed for at least one day per pay period until the end of the fiscal year. “This is very painful for us, because it involves our employees. But it’s going to be very painful for the flying public,” LaHood told reporters.

Obama went even further. He pointed out some 800,000 military personnel will have to take unpaid leave and that the navy had already delayed deployments. “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,” Obama said.

Obama has spent the last week warning about the dangers of the sequester. On Thursday he called the Republican House speaker, John Boehner, and Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, but the two sides appear to be at loggerheads with only days to go before the cuts come into effect.

In his speech Obama repeated his stance that Republicans were to blame for the deadlock by defending the special interest groups of the wealthy and big corporations. In strident and forceful language reminiscent of last year’s bitterly fought presidential election, Obama portrayed his opponents as sacrificing middle class Americans in favour of the rich.

He asked: “Are Republicans in Congress really willing to let these cuts fall on our kids’ schools and mental health care just to protect tax loopholes for corporate jet owners?

“Are they really willing to slash military health care and the border patrol just because they refuse to eliminate tax breaks for big oil companies? Are they seriously prepared to inflict more pain on the middle class because they refuse to ask anything more of those at the very top?”