WASHINGTON — The White House and its Republican foes clashed Thursday over a law requiring steep cuts to military spending after a congressional "SuperCommittee" failed to agree on long-range deficit reduction.
Republicans have stepped up election-year pressure on President Barack Obama to help them roll back the measure, warning that the planned automatic cuts of about $500 billion over 10 years will hurt national security.
Republican House Speaker John Boehner said if the cuts go forward, it "would clearly hollow our military" and added: "Where's the White House? Where's the leadership that should be there to ensure that the sequester does not go into effect?"
And Republican senators unveiled legislation that would put off about $110 billion in automatic cuts scheduled to take effect in 2013, paid for with a federal employee pay freeze and shrinking the federal workforce.
"That should be the legislation that says, 'America, we didn't mean what we said?'" White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters, referring to the August 2011 law that set out the trade-off.
Carney noted that the cuts, known in Washington as a "sequester," were designed as unacceptable in order to force the two parties to make the painful compromises for the "SuperCommittee" to reach a deal.
The panel had to find at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years or trigger about $500 billion in cuts each to the Pentagon and a health care program over the same period.
Lawmakers and the White House have been mulling their options for replacing the so-called "sequester," but have remained at odds largely over Republican rejection of Obama's insistence that any deal include tax hikes on the rich.
And congressional Republicans, whose unyielding opposition to raising taxes on the richest Americans helped scuttle the "SuperCommittee" effort, now say the defense cuts must at least partly be rolled back.
"The whole idea of the sequester was to design it in a way so that nobody, Democrats or Republicans, wanted it to become fact," said Carney, who pressed lawmakers for a "balanced" package.
The term refers to a blend of spending cuts and tax hikes -- essentially what Obama has pushed and Republicans have rejected.
"The president certainly hopes that Congress will take up the issue again and present him with deficit reduction measures that are balanced," said Carney.