February 25, 2013

President says states will suffer from cuts

The Obama administration tries to turn up the pressure on Republicans to avert the looming budget cutbacks.

By ZACHARY A. GOLDFARB AND PAUL KANE/The Washington Post

WASHINGTON - The White House on Sunday detailed how deep spending cuts set to begin this week would affect programs in every state and the District of Columbia, as President Obama launched a last-ditch effort to pressure congressional Republicans to compromise on a way to stop the across-the-board cuts.

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In this Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013 file photo, President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks in the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office building on the White House complex in Washington, to urge Congress to come up with an alternative plan to avert automatic spending cuts set to kick in on March 1, 2013. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

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But while Republicans and Democrats were due to introduce dueling legislative proposals this week to avert the Friday start of the spending cuts, known as the sequester, neither side expected the measures to get enough support to pass Congress.

Lawmakers instead were planning for a lengthy round of political jostling ahead of another budget showdown in late March that could determine whether the $85 billion in cuts to domestic and defense spending stick.

Republicans questioned whether the sequester would be as harmful as the White House predicted and worked on a proposal that could preserve the cuts while giving the administration more discretion to choose how to implement them. Democrats expressed worry that they might be forced to accept the cuts if the public outcry is not loud enough in coming weeks.

Seeking to raise alarm among a public that has not paid much attention to the issue, the White House on Sunday released 51 fact sheets describing what would happen over the next seven months if the cuts go into effect.

The Washington area would be hit hard. Virginia, Maryland and the District cumulatively would lose $29 million in elementary and high school funding, putting at risk 390 teacher and teacher-aide jobs and affecting 27,000 students.

About 2,000 poor children would lose access to early education, and less funding would mean 31,400 fewer HIV tests.

And nearly 150,000 civilian Defense Department personnel in the area would be partially furloughed through Sept. 30 -- with a total average reduction in pay of $7,500.

The sequester -- worth $1.2 trillion over 10 years -- effectively orders the administration to make across-the-board, indiscriminate cuts to agency programs, sparing only some mandatory programs such as Medicaid and food stamps. It is the result of a 2011 deal forged by the White House and Congress to reduce federal borrowing.

It was intended as a draconian measure so blunt that it would force lawmakers to find alternative means of reducing the budget deficit. But while Republicans and Democrats have both made suggestions for how to do so, no plan has gotten enough support to pass Congress.

On Sunday, White House officials painted an ominous picture of cuts affecting a wide range of government services if the sequester takes effect -- and spotlighted the impact in states that are politically important to Republicans.

Hundreds of teachers could lose their jobs in Ohio, home to Republican House Speaker John Boehner, officials said, and thousands of children might not receive necessary vaccines in conservative Georgia.

Obama's aides said they would seek to make clear that Republicans are choosing to allow the cuts to go forward instead of agreeing to reduce the deficit by scaling back tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy.

"It's important to understand why the sequester is going to go into effect," said Dan Pfeiffer, an Obama senior adviser. "The Republicans are making a policy choice that these cuts are better for the economy than eliminating loopholes that benefit the wealthy."

"The American people overwhelmingly disagree with that choice," he said. "But in a constitutional government where Republicans control the House, if they want to force that choice on the American people, they have the right to do that."

Republicans have rejected the idea of raising taxes on Americans after more than $600 billion in increases were approved in January. And on Sunday, some accused the administration of exaggerating the danger of allowing the cuts to begin.

(Continued on page 2)

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