WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama urged Congress on Saturday to replace automatic across-the-board spending cuts known as the sequester with what he called "a balanced approach," which combines "smart" cuts with reforms.
The appeal came the day after the president, complying with the law, signed an order bringing arbitrary cuts worth US$85 billion into force as well as a report by his Office of Management and Budget detailing the cuts to each agency.
Obama has called the sweeping cuts, stemming from a 2011 debt ceiling agreement, "dumb".
The across-the-board cuts were triggered automatically following the failure of efforts to clinch a deal with Republicans on cutting the deficit.
But in his weekly radio and Internet address, he argued there was still time to find a smarter solution to the nation's debt problem.
"I still believe we can and must replace these cuts with a balanced approach - one that combines smart spending cuts with entitlement reform and changes to our tax code that make it more fair for families and businesses without raising anyone's tax rates," Obama said.
He said the budget deficit, now exceeding US$1 trillion, can be reduced without laying off workers or forcing parents and students to pay the price.
"A majority of the American people agree with me on this approach - including a majority of Republicans," the president argued. "We just need Republicans in Congress to catch up with their own party and the rest of the country."
Under the sequester, 800,000 civilian employees of the Defence Department will go on a mandatory furlough one day a week and the navy will trim voyages. The deployment of a second aircraft carrier to the Gulf has been cancelled.
Defence contractors may be forced to lay off workers and some federal health spending could be hit.
Cuts will also be made to special needs education and preschool for less well-off children. National parks could close and wait times could hit four hours at airport customs posts.
But the president insisted that despite public bickering, Republicans and Democrats actually had more in common than they were willing to let on.
"I know there are Republicans in Congress who would actually rather see tax loopholes closed than let these cuts go through," Obama said. "And I know there are Democrats who'd rather do smart entitlement reform than let these cuts go through. There's a caucus of common sense. And I'm going to keep reaching out to them to fix this for good."