Lawmakers, officials list problems cuts would bring, but appear no closer to compromise

Gov. Sam Brownback on spending cuts


Lawmakers from the White House to Capitol Hill to the Western Plains agree that the fast-approaching, $85 billion in cuts to the federal budget jeopardize everything from combat readiness to pre-K programs. But they also express little optimism about a deal to avert the reductions before they kick in Friday.  

All of them made their case over the weekend for President Obama along with congressional Democrats and Republicans to reach a budget deal to avert the cuts -- known as sequester. However, both parties accused each other of extending the stalemate.

“It will kick in,” Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn told “Fox News Sunday.”  "The reason there is no agreement is because there's no leadership from the president on actually recognizing what the problem is."

He was joined on Fox by Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, who agreed the cuts would occur -- “unless the Republicans are willing to compromise and do a balanced approach.”

Congress agreed to the massive, across-the-board cuts in 2011 after failing to reach a deal on more measured reductions.

Should no deal be reached, the government will be forced to make drastic cuts with hardly any leeway to save some programs.

This would lead to furloughs for hundreds of thousands of workers at such agencies as the Transportation and Defense departments and would impact such parts of the everyday American life as commercial air travel and federal meat inspections.

President Obama during this weekend's weekly address said congressional Republicans could easily stop the cuts by agreeing to close tax loopholes that protect the wealthiest Americans.

“Unfortunately, it appears that Republicans in Congress have decided that instead of compromising -- instead of asking anything of the wealthiest Americans-- they would rather let these cuts fall squarely on the middle class.”

Maryland Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley called the cuts “senseless.”

"And it's a damn shame because we've actually had the fastest rate of jobs recovery of any state in our region,” he said Saturday during the winter meeting of the National Governors Association.

House Republicans have said reduced spending needs to be the focus and have rejected the president's demand to include higher taxes as part of a compromise. They say legislation passed in early January already raises taxes on the wealthiest Americans to generate an estimated $600 billion for the Treasury over a decade.  

Some governors said the budget impasse was just the latest crisis in Washington that is keeping businesses from hiring and undermining the ability of governors to develop state spending plans.

"I've not given up hope, but we're going to be prepared for whatever comes," said Nevada's Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval said Saturday. "There will be consequences for our state."

Several Cabinet secretaries also went on the Sunday television talk shows to warn of the approaching economic fallout.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said 70,000 fewer children from low-income families would have access to pre-kindergarten Head Start early education programs. Furloughed meat inspectors could leave plants idled.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood warned that travelers could face delays because the Federal Aviation Administration is in line for $600 million in spending cuts.

He told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that the Transportation Department would not compromise safety but acknowledged air traffic controllers could be furloughed.

Top Republicans on Senate and House transportation and aviation panels accused the administration of raising an unnecessary alarm.

"Before jumping to the conclusion that furloughs must be implemented, the administration and the agency need to sharpen their pencils and consider all the options," the lawmakers said in a joint statement.

The cuts would trim from domestic and defense spending alike. 

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said the cuts would harm the readiness of U.S. fighting forces. He said the "vast majority" of the Defense Department's 800,000 civilian workers would have to lose one day of work per week, or 20 percent of their pay, for up to 22 weeks, probably starting in late April.

Arizona Sen. John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, called those defense cuts "unconscionable" and urged Obama to call lawmakers to the White House or the presidential retreat of Camp David for a last-minute budget summit.

"I won't put all the blame all on the president of the United States,” he said. “But the president leads. The president should be calling us over somewhere -- Camp David, the White House, somewhere -- and us sitting down and trying to avert these cuts."

LaHood also urged his colleagues to watch "Lincoln," Steven Spielberg's film about President Abraham Lincoln's political skills.

"Everybody around here ought to go take a look at the 'Lincoln' movie, where they did very hard things by working together, talking together and compromising," he said. "That's what's needed here."

But there are few signs of urgency among congressional leaders, who have recently indicated their willingness to let the cuts take effect and stay in place for weeks, if not much longer.

The sequester cuts, with few exceptions, are designed to hit all accounts equally. The law gives Obama little leeway to ease the pain. Even if granted flexibility to apply the cuts with more discretion -- a legislative step Republicans said Sunday they might pursue -- White House officials say that would still require severe reductions.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.