The White House escalated its efforts to pressure congressional Republicans on sequestration, releasing new reports that showed the state-by-state impact of some $85 billion in automatic spending cuts.
President Obama’s administration for days has been stressing the real-world implications of the spending cuts, which start going into effect on Friday, and has increasingly tried to bring that message directly to voters.
On a Sunday conference call, Dan Pfeiffer, a senior adviser at the White House, said that sequestration was only going into effect because Republicans on Capitol Hill weren’t willing to compromise on new revenues to help replace the cuts.
Pfeiffer added that Obama remained willing to discuss a broad fiscal deal that would include entitlement programs, and that the GOP’s hard line stance on the sequester was hurting the chances for their long-term goal of restraining entitlement spending.
“With a little bit of compromise and common sense, this could be resolved,” Pfeiffer said. “Republicans are making a policy choice that these cuts are better for the economy than eliminating tax loopholes that benefit the wealthy.”
The White House’s new reports come just days before Obama is scheduled to visit Newport News, Va., part of a Hampton Roads region which is heavily dependent on defense spending. The $85 billion in spending cuts is split roughly half between the Pentagon and non-defense programs.
In their new report, the White House says sequestration would force the Navy to cancel maintenance for 11 separate ships in Norfolk, Va., and that the cuts would mean $146 million less for operational funding for Army bases in the state.
In California, the reports say, sequestration would cause around 8,000 children to lose Head Start services, deprive some 15,000 children of needed vaccines and result in 3,000 fewer victims of domestic violence receiving services.
Those figures came as both Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Sunday discussed how the sequester could cause furloughs at the Federal Aviation Administration and cost teachers around the country their jobs.
Republicans hit back quickly at the White House reports, charging that Obama was more focused on laying blame for the impending cuts on the GOP than on working with lawmakers to avert the sequester.
"Republicans in the House have voted - twice - to replace President Obama's sequester with smarter spending cuts," said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel in a statement. "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."
Despite the president’s pressure, Republicans have, by and large, said that they won’t agree to replace the sequester with new revenues, after the fiscal cliff deal signed earlier this year included some $600 billion in tax increases.
But GOP lawmakers have also not presented a completely united message on sequestration. Republican leaders and defense hawks have said that the cuts are deep and foolish, but largely believe they should only be replaced with other spending cuts. Other Republican lawmakers, though, have expressed fewer concerns with pocketing the spending cuts, especially in the wake of January’s fiscal cliff deal.
GOP officials have said the Obama administration owns sequestration and its effects, arguing that the budget ax was conceived by the White House.
They cited a new column from The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward that asserts that the White House is reneging on its commitment by trying to replace some of the cuts with revenues.
“I won't put all the blame on the president of the United States, but the president leads,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said on CNN’s “State of the Union on Sunday. “The president should be calling us over somewhere, Camp David, the White House, somewhere, and sitting down and trying to avert these cuts.
“We've been talking about this for a year and asking the president for a year to come forward,” Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) added on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “In the campaign, he said this wasn't going to happen. It's time for him to lead this effort as the commander-in-chief of this country.”
The administration, though, has countered that Congress backed implementing sequestration, and that many GOP lawmakers have walked back support for new tax revenues.
On Sunday’s conference call, Pfeiffer acknowledged that, while he believed sequestration would be devastating in the long run, it could take some time for people to feel the full weight of the cuts – something that could help Republicans’ leverage if the debate over replacing the sequester drags on for weeks.
But Pfeiffer dismissed the idea that the White House overplayed its hand, by believing that Republicans would be more ready to accept new revenues.
The White House adviser said that Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) had, like the administration, embraced scrapping tax breaks for the highest earners before the fiscal cliff deal came together.
Republicans, Pfeiffer said, are “so focused on not giving the president a win that they’re undermining their own policy goal.”
The Senate is expected to vote this week on a Democratic sequester replacement plan that would be split between revenues and spending cuts. Ayotte said Sunday that she was working on her own measure, but House Republicans have not scheduled a vote on replacement legislation.
House Republicans pushed through two measures last year, but they both expired at the start of the new Congress. Pfeiffer on Sunday also suggested that GOP leaders did not have the votes to pass another replacement bill this time around.
The White House report also comes as the nation’s governors convene in Washington for a meeting of the National Governors Association. Both Democratic and Republican governors, though, largely backed their respective parties’ preferred plan for replacing the looming cuts.
But with sequestration set to impact their bottom lines as well, governors also largely avoided giving specific policy prescriptions for how to avert the cuts, and instead more generally called on Washington to come together and reach an agreement.
Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, a Republican, told “Fox News Sunday” that Democrats had already gotten their tax increases in the fiscal cliff deal.
But, he added, “our hope is between now and March 1st, to find a way to provide some better alternatives to the cuts in the sequester.”