Denis McDonough, the president's chief of staff, warned that the cuts would come as the stock market was coming back, the housing market has improved, and the number of jobs has grown, and urged Congress to consider a balanced approach that would further strengthen the economy and, in turn, the middle class.
"This isn't a spending fight for us," McDonough told NBC's Meet the Press. "This is a fight about whether we're going to make the investments in middle-class families in this country, in education, in science and technology, in food inspection, and those kinds of things."
Senate Democrats last week offered a plan they said was a balanced approach of more revenue and budget cuts. The White House supports the proposal, but it drew an icy reception from Republicans, who say the president got the tax increases he wanted during the agreement to avoid the "fiscal cliff."
"The question isn't whether we're going to insist on some position because that's the ideologically right position," McDonough said. "This should not be a social-science experiment. This should be a question where we ask ourselves, what is most important to the economy, what is most important to the middle-class families of this country? And that's the way the president is going to do this."
South Carolina's Sen. Lindsay Graham was among the Republicans on Sunday who recalled the president's position on the sequester in the fall.
"The president promised in the campaign sequestration would not happen. Now, he is allowing it to happen," Graham said on Fox News Sunday.
"He's the commander-in-chief, and on his watch, we're going to begin to unravel the finest military in the history of the world, at a time when we need it most," added Graham, a member of the Armed Services Committee. "If you want to look at ways to find $1.2 trillion in savings over the next decade, let's look at Obamacare. Let's don't destroy the military and just cut blindly across the board. There are many ways to do this."
Graham offered no specifics, however.
With the March 1 deadline fast approaching, Sen. Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat and close ally of the White House, predicted that Republicans will eventually join Democrats to avoid the cuts.
"They have no choice," he said on CNN's State of the Union.