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White House ups rhetoric on dangers of sequester

GOP: ‘Real impact’ being hyped for political effect

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The Obama administration amped up its offensive Sunday with Republicans over the $85 billion in across-the-board federal spending cuts scheduled to kick in Friday, releasing fresh warnings of a "real impact on people's lives" despite GOP claims the White House is exaggerating the potential ill effects.

A new administration report shows the effects of the so-called sequester cuts seeping far beyond just nonessential government workers and programs. For example, the cuts would threaten 350 teaching jobs in Ohio, result in 4,180 fewer children in Georgia receiving vaccines, and cancel maintenance on 11 Navy ships docked in Norfolk, Va., says a new administration report.

"This will have macroeconomic consequences, cost hundreds of thousands of jobs across the country and jobs throughout the private sector from contractors," Jason Furman, principal deputy director of the White House's National Economic Council, told reporters during a conference call. "This will have serious programmatic consequences for all 50 states and the District of Columbia."

The administration says federal agencies are drafting plans ahead of Friday's deadline on how to best carry out the cuts, such as stopping contracts with private-sector vendors, employee layoffs, cutting grants or scaling back programs — or some combination of these and other cost-saving measures.

But Republicans accused the president of hypocrisy, saying he has chosen to go on a nationwide public relations tour in an attempt to shame them instead of staying in Washington to work on a deal.

"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," said Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican.

Republicans also say the GOP-controlled House twice last year passed bills to replace the sequester with spending cuts, only to have the measures die in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

"What we still don't know is whether the president has a plan for smarter, more common-sense cuts to the waste and endless growth in Washington," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said Sunday. "Rather than issuing last-minute press releases on cuts to first responders or troop training or airport security, he should propose smarter ways to cut Washington spending."

The administration and Democrats counter that only a "balanced approach" that includes tax increases has a chance of passing both chambers. They add the House bills died with the new Congress convened in January, and complain House leaders haven't pushed new legislation this year to end the sequester.

Even before Sunday's conference call, administration proxies had fanned out throughout the morning talk shows, warning of catastrophes that would result if $85 billion in spending cuts are imposed on a federal government that spends more than $3,000 billion annually and is more than $16,000 billion in debt.

Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, for example, warned Sunday that furloughs — including for air-traffic controllers — will be imminent in his department if the spending cuts kick in Friday, as scheduled.

"We're going to look at everything we possibly can to get to where we need to be, which is about $600 million in cuts. But we can't do it without also furloughing people," Mr. LaHood told CNN's "State of the Union."

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Sunday he will be powerless to avoid the sequester's harmful effects to programs ranging from preschool to college.

"We don't have any ability with dumb cuts like this to figure out what the right thing to do is," he said on CBS' "Face the Nation." "It just means a lot more children will not get the kinds of services and opportunities they need and as many as 40,000 teachers could lose their jobs."

The administration also kept up its sequester blame game with congressional Republicans, accusing them of refusing to negotiate in good faith to avoid the cuts.

"Let's be very clear; Democrats in the House are trying to resolve it, Democrats in the Senate are trying to resolve it, President Obama is trying to resolve it and the Republicans are making a policy choice that these cuts are better for the economy than eliminating loopholes and benefits for the wealthy," White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said Sunday during the conference call with reporters.

"It should be easy for Republicans to do, but they are so focused on not giving the president a win."

Mr. LaHood, a former Republican congressman from Illinois, also called on GOP members of Congress to put partisan politics aside and work with Mr. Obama to get a deal down to avoid the cuts.

"My audience is trying to persuade my former [congressional] colleagues that they need to come to the table with a proposal," he said. "While the president has, the Republicans haven't."

The series of federal spending cuts — set into motion by the 2011 debt deal and delayed two months as part of the New Year's Eve deal to avoid the "fiscal cliff" — would reduce the discretionary budgets of most agencies and programs by up to about 10 percent. A few notable exemptions apply, such as Social Security, veterans programs and education Pell Grants. And the sequester spared Medicare from a 2 percent cut to medical providers.

The sequesters never were intended to be implemented. Rather, they were meant to be so onerous that all sides involved would be inspired to find other, more palatable ways to lower the debt and deficit.

Republicans, who initially balked at the pending Pentagon cuts, have concluded the sequesters offer their best immediate chances for real spending cuts.

Sen. Tom Coburn on Sunday accused the administration of "absolutely" exaggerating the potential adverse effects of the sequesters.

"You see the typical setup, a straw man," he said on "Fox News Sunday."

The Oklahoma Republican, who said he doesn't think a deal will be reached in time to avoid the cuts, added federal agencies such as the Homeland Security and Transportation departments have "plenty of flexibility" to find ways to implement the cuts in ways that don't compromise safety or national security.

"There's easy ways to cut this money that the American people will never feel," he said. "What you hear is an outrage because nobody wants to cut spending. … It will be somewhat painful, but not cutting spending is going to be disastrous for our country."

But Danny Werfel, controller of the White House's Office of Management and Budget, said federal agency heads have "limited flexibility" in how to impose the cuts.

"All of these various disruptions and harmful impacts — they're going to occur," he told reporters on the conference call. "We can try to mitigate some of them, and we are to the best of our ability. … [But] when you're taking an $85 billion cut over a seven-month period, there is no road map of flexibility that allows you to eliminate many, many of the disruptions that are going to occur."

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