Hi, everybody. Over the last few years, Democrats and Republicans have come together and cut our deficit by more than $2.5 trillion through a balanced mix of spending cuts and higher tax rates for the wealthiest Americans. That's more than halfway towards the $4 trillion in deficit reduction that economists and elected officials from both parties say we need to stabilize our debt.
I believe we can finish the job the same way we've started it -- with a balanced mix of more spending cuts and more tax reform. And the overwhelming majority of the American people agree -- both Democrats and Republicans.
Now, my preference -- and the preference of many Members of Congress -- is to do that in a balanced, comprehensive way, by making sensible changes to entitlement programs and reforming our tax code. As we speak, both the House and Senate are working towards budget proposals that I hope will lay out this kind of balanced path going forward.
But the budget process takes time. And right now, if Congress doesn't act by March 1, a series of harmful, automatic cuts to job-creating investments and defense spending -- also known as the sequester -- are scheduled to take effect. And the result could be a huge blow to middle-class families and our economy as a whole.
If the sequester is allowed to go forward, thousands of Americans who work in fields like national security, education or clean energy are likely to be laid off. Firefighters and food inspectors could also find themselves out of work -- leaving our communities vulnerable. Programs like Head Start would be cut, and lifesaving research into diseases like cancer and Alzheimer's could be scaled back. Small businesses could be prevented from getting the resources and support they need to keep their doors open. People with disabilities who are waiting for their benefits could be forced to wait even longer. All our economic progress could be put at risk.
And then there's the impact on our military readiness. Already, the threat of deep cuts has forced the Navy to delay an aircraft carrier that was supposed to deploy to the Persian Gulf. As our military leaders have made clear, changes like this affect our ability to respond to threats in an unstable part of the world. And we will be forced to make even more tough decisions in the weeks ahead if Congress fails to act.
The good news is, there's another option. Two months ago, we faced a similar deadline, and instead of making deep, indiscriminate cuts that would have cost us jobs and slowed down our recovery, Democrats and Republicans came together and made responsible cuts and manageable changes to our tax code that will bring down our deficit. This time, Congress should pass a similar set of balanced cuts and close more tax loopholes until they can find a way to replace the sequester with a smarter, longer-term solution.
Right now, most Members of Congress -- including many Republicans -- don't think it's a good idea to put thousands of jobs at risk and do unnecessary damage to our economy. And yet the current Republican plan puts the burden of avoiding those cuts mainly on seniors and middle-class families. They would rather ask more from the vast majority of Americans and put our recovery at risk than close even a single tax loophole that benefits the wealthy.
Over the last few years, we've made good progress towards reducing our deficit in a balanced way. There's no reason we can't keep chipping away at this problem. And there's certainly no reason that middle-class families and small businesses should suffer just because Washington couldn't come together and eliminate a few special interest tax loopholes, or government programs that just don't work. At a time when economists and business leaders from across the spectrum have said that our economy is poised for progress, we shouldn't allow self-inflicted wounds to put that progress in jeopardy.
So my message to Congress is this: let's keep working together to solve this problem. And let's give our workers and our businesses the support they need to grow and thrive. Thanks, and have a great weekend.