White House warns again of budget cuts

 

McClatchy Newspapers

The White House on Sunday ramped up its campaign to avoid across-the-board spending cuts scheduled to take place in less than a week by releasing detailed estimates of what reductions could mean in every state.

In California, for example, 1,210 teachers and aides could lose their jobs, according to the White House. In Florida, 7,450 fewer children could receive vaccines for diseases. In North Carolina, 800 victims of domestic violence could go without treatment.

“This is a small sample of the consequences in the states across the country in everything from education, national defense, environment, public health,” Jason Furman, principal deputy director of the National Economic Council, told reporters Sunday.

Five days before the cuts are slated to take place, Obama administration officials, members of Congress and governors continued to point fingers for the cuts while warning about the possible dire consequences.

The automatic cuts – known inside the Beltway as sequestration – are the result of a bipartisan deal struck in 2011 to raise the nation’s debt ceiling. Congress agreed that if a 12-member committee failed to reduce the deficit by $1.2 trillion over the next decade, the cuts would come from government spending.

“This sequester is going into effect because Republicans are choosing for it to go into effect,’’ Obama senior advisor Dan Pfeiffer said. “They’ve made that choice.”

The first round of cuts -- now estimated at $85 billion -- was set to start in January. But the White House and Congress agreed to delay that until March 1 as part of a deal that raised taxes on the richest 1 percent of Americans.

"Republicans in the House have voted - twice - to replace President Obama’s sequester with smarter spending cuts,” said Michael Steel, a spokeman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. “The White House needs to spend less time explaining to the press how bad the sequester will be and more time actually working to stop it.”

Obama is urging Congress to delay the reductions, even by a few months, by passing a package of modest cuts and additional revenue by eliminating tax loopholes benefiting certain industries or the wealthy.

But many Republicans oppose increases in revenue. Some want to the cuts occur while others are eyeing an 11th-hour change to the law that would allow agencies to determine how to best administer the reductions.

Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos the worst of the cuts could be alleviated with some flexibility. “We can get all through this,” he said. “The best way to do it is just allow flexibility. If you allow flexibility you don’t have to shut down the carrier.”

White House spokesman Jay Carney has insisted for weeks that the agencies have no flexibility. Administration officials did not respond to questions Sunday about whether they would support a change in law to gain flexibility.

But on Sunday some Democratic lawmakers continued to say the best course of action is a compromise between the Republican-led House an Democratic-controlled Senate to avert the cuts.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said on Fox News Sunday that Defense Department officials have said “even if we did some kind of flexibility move at the 11th hour, it’s too little, too late in terms of what they’ve got in motion.”

In recent days, the White House has directed Cabinet secretaries to begin speaking about the potential cuts with both Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood appearing on talk shows Sunday.

LaHood said travelers will likely endure 90-minute waits flying to major U.S. cities such as New York and Chicago because of fewer controllers on staff.

“It’s the Congress’s opportunity this week, as they come back from listening to their constituents about all the hurt that’s going to be taking place in the country as a result of this sequester,” he said on NBC’s Meet the Press. “I believe these members of Congress will push their leaders to say let’s fix this before Friday.”

Staff writer Lesley Clark contributed to this report.

Email: akumar@mcclatchydc.com; twitter @anitakumar01

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