WASHINGTON — With just 10 days before sequestration, President Barack Obama urged congressional action to stop the harmful “meat cleaver” cuts, warning they would compromise military readiness, damage the nation’s fragile economic recovery, and put hundreds of thousands of Americans out of work.

Before about 20 first responders at the White House, Obama on Tuesday urged congressional Republicans to at least come up with a short-term package of tax reform and spending cuts to avert the cuts. The urgency has been heightened by the fact that Congress is on a 10-day recess until Feb. 25.

Obama emphasized that the emergency responders were the type of dedicated workers who would be put out of work, furloughed and absorb cuts in hours and paychecks. He blamed Congress for “partisan recklessness and ideological rigidity” that created the stalemate.

They “didn’t compromise, they haven’t come together, and they haven’t done their job, and so as a consequence, we’ve got these automatic, brutal spending cuts that are poised to happen next Friday,” he said.

“Now if Congress allows this meat-cleaver approach to take place, it will jeopardize our military readiness, it will eviscerate job-creating investments in education and energy and medical research. It won’t consider whether we are cutting some bloated program that has outlived its usefulness or a vital service that Americans depend on every single day.”

Obama called for Democrats and Republicans to come together, but he said that Republican leadership has not offered viable solutions that would include closing tax loopholes for the wealthiest Americans and special interest groups.

The president said it was “wrong to ask the middle class to bear the full burden of deficit reduction” and he vowed he would not sign a plan that would harm the middle class.

“Are they willing to compromise?” he said of congressional Republicans. “That’s the choice: Are you willing to see a bunch of first responders lose their jobs because you want to want to protect special interest tax loopholes?”

These cuts “are not smart, they are not fair, they will hurt our economy, they will add hundreds of thousands of Americans to the unemployment rolls,” he said. “This is not an abstraction.”

House Speaker John Boehner countered in a statement that the House has “twice passed legislation to replace it with common sense cuts and reforms that won’t threaten public safety, national security or our economy.”

“But once again, the president offered no credible plan that can pass Congress — only more calls for higher taxes,” he said.

The GOP is willing to “close loopholes and carve-outs in the tax code, but that revenue should be used to lower rates across the board,” he said.

“Tax reform is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to boost job creation in America,” he said. “It should not be squandered to enable more Washington spending. Spending is the problem, spending must be the focus.” Twitter: @JoyceTsaiDC

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