President Obama speaks Feb. 19, joined by emergency responders, in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House campus in Washington, D.C. Obama spoke about the upcoming spending cuts known as sequestration. The White House has released projections on how the cuts would affect each state. (Brendan Smialowski / AFP)
The White House kicked off a week of warnings Sunday about the sequestration by issuing reports on how the looming $85 billion in automatic budget cuts will affect each of the 50 states.
Among the examples: A slowdown of Superstorm Sandy cleanup in New Jersey, teacher layoffs in Ohio, reduced ship maintenance in Virginia, fewer vaccinations in Georgia, military base cutbacks in Texas and California, and similar reductions in states across the country, the reports said.
With the automatic cuts set to begin Friday, President Obama is expected to cite the state reports as part of his effort to pressure congressional Republicans over the sequestration. Obama’s schedule this week includes remarks Monday to the National Governors Association and a Tuesday visit to shipyards in Newport News, Va.
The sequestration threatens “hundreds of thousands of middle-class jobs,” as well as “vital services for children, seniors, people with mental illness, and our men and women in uniform,” said an introduction to the White House’s state-by-state breakdowns.
In a statement, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said “surely” Obama can find a way to cut 2 percent to 3 percent from a $3.5 trillion budget.
“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,” McConnell said.
By releasing sequestration reports on 50 states, plus the District of Columbia, the Obama administration is hoping that local media outlets will spotlight the jobs and services that are threatened in their areas.
The reports list numerous cutbacks in federal programs that have big constituencies or political popularity, including Head Start, military readiness, the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and Clean Air and Clean Water programs.
For weeks, Obama has proposed replacing the sequestration with a new debt-reduction agreement that would include both targeted spending cuts and new taxes through the elimination of loopholes and deductions that benefit the wealthy.
Republicans said Obama got higher tax rates in the agreement that ended their last budget standoff — “the fiscal cliff” — and this deal should be spending cuts only.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said on CNN’s State of the Union that Obama needs to speak directly to congressional Republicans about avoiding the sequestration. “The president should be calling us over somewhere — Camp David, the White House, somewhere — and sitting down and trying to avert these cuts,” McCain said.
Obama and aides said debt reduction should be “balanced” between program cuts and tax revenues because middle-class Americans should not bear all the burden of reducing a national debt that exceeds $16 trillion. White House officials said that Obama is willing to work with Republicans but that Republicans have shown no desire to give up tax breaks benefiting the wealthy.
In his weekly Saturday radio address, Obama said the cuts will slow the economy, eliminate jobs and “leave many families who are already stretched to the limit scrambling to figure out what to do.”
David Jackson writes for USA TODAY.