WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama and congressional leaders failed on Friday to stop deep, automatic cuts in federal spending that will immediately shrink the size and ambition of government, even as they vowed an end to the rolling fiscal battles that have repeatedly threatened government shutdowns and economic crisis over two years.
Emerging from an Oval Office meeting with the lawmakers, the president called the cuts ‘‘just dumb.’’ He said they would slow the economic recovery and spoke emotionally about their impact on people who would feel the consequences of government layoffs and disruptions in public services.
‘‘I don’t anticipate a huge financial crisis, but people are going to be hurt,’’ Obama said during a 35-minute news conference at the White House, in which he acknowledged that his campaign of highlighting fallout from the cuts had failed to persuade Republicans to consider tax increases as part of a package to avert the $85 billion in reductions over the next seven months.
But both the president and his Republican adversaries said they would not carry the fight over the cuts into a coming legislative effort to finance the government through Sept. 30, essentially declaring a cease-fire in the budget wars that have dominated Washington since 2011.
The showdown in December over the so-called fiscal cliff yielded $620 billion in tax increases over 10 years. The across-the-board spending cuts now going into force will cut deficits an additional $1.2 trillion.
Both sides indicated that for now, that may be enough — a fiscal peace through political exhaustion.
After locking in nearly $3.6 trillion in spending cuts and tax increases since 2011, the receding budget wars have left their mark on the nation’s balance sheet, said Alice Rivlin, a former White House budget director and former vice chairwoman of the Federal Reserve. But, she said, those successive budget deals have done nothing to address the nation’s long-term financial troubles as the population ages. They have, however, hurt the economy.
‘‘It does not get us on a track to stabilizing the debt, mostly because it’s the wrong kind of cut,’’ Rivlin said. ‘‘No, it makes things worse.’’
The two parties will now move to a broader argument over the right level of taxes and spending as they seek to develop a new budget for the coming year and beyond. Republicans said they welcomed a return to a more orderly budget process but warned they would not give in on their basic principles.
‘‘I will not be part of any back-room deal, and I will absolutely not agree to increase taxes,’’ said Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader.
After a public relations blitz lasting weeks that was aimed at stopping the cuts, Obama said he is prepared to extend a stopgap law that finances the government to March 27 if Republicans stick to an agreement worked out in 2011 about the level of federal spending. The decision will most likely allow the across-the-board spending reductions to remain in place for months if not years.
White House officials and Senate Democrats had considered making one last stand around the March 27 deadline, declaring the Senate would not pass another government spending plan unless it undid the across-the-board cuts. But Senate Democrats were leery. The first furloughs are likely to hit in April, and the Democrats feared that little political pressure would have built on Republicans before the current stopgap spending law expired.
‘‘The president has made it clear he does not want to shut down the government,’’ Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the Senate Budget Committee chairwoman, said Friday. ‘‘None of us do. That is another disruption that we just can’t afford right now.’’
After the White House session, the House speaker, John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, said that he wanted to avoid a shutdown and that the House would begin advancing a financing measure next week. ‘‘I'm hopeful that we won’t have to deal with the threat of a government shutdown while we’re dealing with the sequester at the same time,’’ he told reporters.
Republicans told the president during Friday’s meeting that they would not accept any new tax increases as an alternative to the across-the-board cuts, known as the sequester, and Obama said he did not intend to force the issue.
‘‘Until Congress takes the sequester away, we'd have to abide by those additional cuts,’’ Obama conceded. ‘‘But there’s no reason why we should have another crisis by shutting the government down in addition to these arbitrary spending cuts.’’Continued...