BOSTON (AP) — U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren sounded a pessimistic tone with business leaders on Monday when asked about the prospects of heading off $85 billion in automatic spending cuts scheduled to take effect on Friday.
"Right now there are people who seem to prefer the sequester," said the Massachusetts Democrat, referring to the governmental term for the spending cuts. "Not a majority, but we're learning that a minority can hold Congress tight and keep it from acting."
"I wish I had a better answer," Warren told a breakfast meeting of the New England Council following one of her first major local addresses since taking office in January. Within weeks she became the state's senior senator when John Kerry resigned to become secretary of state.
Massachusetts would lose tens of millions of dollars for education, environmental protection and child care if the automatic spending cuts took effect as scheduled, and about 7,000 civilians who work in defense-related jobs could also face furloughs, according to a state-by-state analysis released by the White House on Sunday night.
James Brett, president of the nonpartisan New England Council, warned that the six-state region could also lose $300 million in medical research funding from the National Institutes of Health, at a cost of up to 2,300 jobs and the prospect of losing talented scientists to other nations.
"And that is terrible, not only for our economy but for us as a people," said Warren, who called the automatic spending cuts a "mindless across-the-board approach" to solving the nation's budget woes.
She called on Congress to back a "balanced proposal" from President Barack Obama that sought revenue increases, including the closing of tax loopholes that benefit the wealthiest Americans and corporations, along with targeted spending cuts. She said she supported the plan even while indicating that the president's proposed budget cuts would go further than she may have preferred.
House Republican leaders insist that reduced spending needs to be the focus and have rejected Obama's call for higher taxes. Some have also blamed the president for allowing the budget trigger to be introduced in the first place as part of a 2011 debt ceiling agreement.
Warren said she did not know if the automatic cuts can be averted in the next four days.
"I cannot believe we have gotten to this point once again, that we seem to have a government ... that only waits until the 59th minute of the 11th hour to say, 'OK, maybe we'll do something that isn't catastrophic.'"
Warren, who also was among the scheduled speakers Monday at a rally in Boston against the looming cuts, did not directly address the sequester in her prepared remarks to the council. She stressed the role of government in creating market conditions that allow businesses to succeed, and repeated her calls for greater investment in education and infrastructure.
Warren also said the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which she helped to create before running for the Senate, has produced more streamlined regulations that are better for both businesses and consumers.