Cantor: Obama offering 'false choices'

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said Thursday that President Obama was offering “false choices” on the looming sequester, as Republicans try to cast the blame for the automatic spending cuts squarely on the White House.

Cantor said in a statement that the cuts set to go into effect on March 1 – which he agreed were neither smart nor fair – would only be implemented because Democrats refuse to restrain federal spending.

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The majority leader added that, after the recent “fiscal cliff” deal raised some $600 billion in revenue, it was time for Washington to move to the spending side of the ledger.

“President Obama has said that unless he gets a second tax hike in eight weeks, he will be forced to let criminals loose on the streets, the meat at your grocery store won’t be inspected and emergency responders will be unable to do their jobs,” Cantor said in his statement. 

“These are false choices. We are faced with the negative effects of the sequester because Democrats have not been able to take even the smallest step towards controlling spending.”

Cantor’s statement comes just over a week before the $85 billion in cuts would start going into effect, and as Washington observers are increasingly pessimistic that a deal to avert the cuts can be reached by the end of the month.

With Congress out of Washington this week, the president has gone on a public relations blitz in his own attempts to tag Republicans as responsible for the sequester. 

Obama held an event this week with first responders, who the White House said could face furlough under the sequester, and has sat for interviews with television reporters from across the country. 

The defense sector would be especially hard hit by the sequester, with the Pentagon telling lawmakers this week that it would be forced to furlough some 800,000 civilian workers if the cuts go into effect.

But more than a million federal workers in all could be affected, The Wall Street Journal reported this week – including food inspectors, airport security personnel employed by the Transportation Security Administration and congressional aides. 

Cantor said in his statement that – instead of potentially harming national security and border and crime patrol – Obama should instead look to cut wasteful spending like federally-sponsored smoking machines and grants given to foreign countries by the Environmental Protection Agency.

“For nearly a year, the president and Senate Democrats have chosen to accept these harmful effects rather than propose any spending cuts to avert the sequester, and help get our fiscal house in order,” the majority leader said.

Cantor’s office released a list of what it called wasteful spending programs this week, including a $47,000 smoking machine. 

The EPA grants to foreign countries total more than $100 million over the last decade, the majority leader’s office said, well short of the $85 billion price tag on the sequester.

Cantor’s list did also assert that the federal government authorized some $115 billion in improper payments in 2011. 

The sequester requires agencies to make across-the-board cuts and does not allow them the flexibility to make targeted cuts. Congress and the White House would have to agree on a bill to replace the sequester if they want to make the cuts more targeted.

The central dispute between the two parties is whether any tax increases should be included in a replacement bill. Republicans say no tax hikes can be included, while Obama and Democrats want to raises taxes on the wealthy and special interests be eliminating certain tax breaks or imposing a new minimum tax on millionaires.  

Senate Democrats plan to vote next week on a $110 billion sequester replacement plan that would be roughly split between spending cuts and new revenues, including cuts to farm programs.

House Republicans passed two measures to roll back the sequester in 2012, as Cantor alluded to in his statement. But those measures expired with the start of the new Congress, and House GOP leaders have shown no interest in bringing a replacement package back to the floor.