White House Warns Coming Austerity Will Hit Economy Hard

Barack Obama
Mandel Ngan | AFP | Getty Images

Automatic government spending cuts due to go into effect March 1 unless Congress acts to prevent them would bite deeply into programs affecting many Americans, such as law enforcement, small business assistance, food safety and tax collection, the White House said on Friday.

The administration urged Congress to blunt the effect of the reductions, which the White House said would slash non-defense programs by 9 percent across the board and defense programs by 13 percent, the White House said.

"These large and arbitrary cuts will have severe impacts across the government," the administration said in a statement.

Days before the president's annual State of the Union address, the White House launched an aggressive broadside against congressional Republicans in a long-running dispute over the nation's finances.

The administration and congressional Republicans are at loggerheads over government spending and taxes, with both sides agreeing on the need to cut a budget deficit that has exploded in the past decade, but disagreeing on how to do so and how quickly.

(Read More: Why Budget Cuts Could Throw Economy Into Recession)

The two sides were able to avoid an initial year-end deadline for spending cuts with a deal that raised taxes on the wealthy while leaving lower rates in place for most Americans. The deal to avoid the so-called "fiscal cliff" postponed automatic cuts off for two months.

Cutting government spending remains a high priority for Republicans, who control the House of Representatives. However, the White House pushed back on Friday by painting a dire picture of what would happen if the automatic cuts were allowed to go into effect.

Obama has asked Republicans for a short-term budget package to avoid the deepest of the automatic spending cuts but has said it needs to "balanced" - that is, include some increases in revenue from closing tax loopholes. House Speaker John Boehner has said he would block any delay in those cuts unless other spending cuts and reforms are agreed to.

In an attempt to prod the Republicans into deferring the automatic spending cuts, the White House on Friday listed an estimate of how government programs could be hit.

(Read More: Long-Term Unemployment Now a Thing of the Past?)

The list included a reduction in force of about 1,000 law enforcement agents, 2,100 fewer food safety inspections, and the loss of nutrition and food benefits for approximately 600,000 women and children, according to the White House.

Hundreds of thousands of government workers would be furloughed, Danny Werfel, a senior White House budget office official, told reporters at a briefing.