Obama urges governors to lobby congressional colleagues on sequester budget cuts

By Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian
Monday, February 25, 2013 13:46 EDT
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Barack Obama, pictured here on February 15, 2013, will become the first serving US president to receive Israel's presidential medal (AFP)
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President urges governors to pressure congressional colleagues to reach a deal as across-the-board spending cuts edge closer

Barack Obama delivered a grim warning to the nation’s governors at the White House on Monday about the impact of across-the-board spending cuts if Congress fails to find a deal by Friday’s deadline.

Obama urged the governors, many of them Republicans, to put pressure on their congressional colleagues this week. But a deal by Friday appears increasingly unlikely, with no negotiations even underway between the two sides.

With no deal in place, $85bn in spending cuts will begin to kick in, about half from the Pentagon and the rest from domestic spending. These will have knock-on effects on teaching jobs, health programmes, air travel and hundreds of other areas funded by the federal government.

Obama, addressing the governors in Washington for their annual conference, said: “The last thing you want to see is Washington get in the way of progress. Unfortunately, in just four days, Congress is poised to allow a series of arbitrary, automatic budget cuts to kick in that will slow our economy, eliminate good jobs and leave a lot of folks who are already pretty thinly stretched scrambling to figure out what to do.”

Thousands of teachers will be laid off, he said, tens of thousands of parents will be struggling to find alternative child care and health programmes such as flu shots and cancer screening will be curtailed.

“These impacts will not be all be felt on day one but rest assured the uncertainty is already having an effect,” Obama said. “Companies are preparing lay-off notices, families are preparing to cut back on expenses and the longer these cuts are in place the bigger the impact will become.”

He then made a direct appeal to the governors to put pressure on their congressional colleagues. “So while you are in town I hope you speak to your congressional delegations and remind them in no uncertain terms what is at stake,” the president said.

Winding up, he said politicians in Washington had to get over their obsession with the next election, stop shuttling from one manufactured crisis to the next and instead get on with governing.

Some Republican governors appeared to be more receptive than their congressional colleagues, expressing concern about the impact of the spending reductions at state level.

The White House on Sunday evening released a report detailing the impact of the cuts state by state.

Speaking before Obama’s remarks, Mary Fallin, Republican governor of Oklahoma, said the burden of the deficit cuts should not be shifted from federal level to the states. She added that states were already facing challenges in dealing with their own budgets.

Obama is to follow up his remarks to the governors with a visit Tuesday to Newport News, Virginia, where many civilian jobs are dependent on military spending, to underline the consequences of the defence cuts.

Speaking to the governors, he offered a preview of his speech in Newport News, saying that if there is no deal on spending, thousands of shipyard repair workers will be laid off and an aircraft carrier under repair would sit idle when it should be heading for the Gulf.

According to the White House report, Virginia would see 90,000 civilians employed by the defence department forced to take leave.

The president, having successfully confronted Republicans in Congress in the last economic showdown at the turn of the year, is looking for another win. Without it, he could find it harder to squeeze through Congress the big-ticket reforms he is seeking on gun control and immigration.

The Republican House speaker, John Boehner, who took a battering over the fiscal cliff deal, seems unwilling to negotiate with the White House this time round.

Some Democrats in Congress are sanguine about the cuts, happy to see military spending, viewed as too big anyway, take the brunt. Republicans, traditionally big backers of high military spending, would prefer to see welfare and other domestic programs hit harder. But this time Republicans appear to have made budget cuts the priority, even if military spending is the main casualty.

Both Republican and Democrats are planning to introduce bills on spending this week but these are symbolic and partisan, with no chance of being passed.

© 2013 Guardian News and Media

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