By Justin Sink - 02/25/13 04:54 PM EST
President Obama on Monday asked the nation's governors to help pressure Congress to strike a deal to avert the looming sequester cuts set to hit at the end of the month.
The president emphasized to state officials that "these cuts don't have to happen," and urged attendees at the annual National Governor's Association meeting to tell their representatives in Washington to get past their "obsession of focusing on the next election instead of the next generation."
"Congress can turn them off anytime with just a little compromise," Obama said.
Following an hour-long private question and answer session with the president, governors from both parties emerged to express concern over the impact the cuts could have on their states.
But while many urged legislators to reach a compromise agreement to avert the sequester, some Republican governors said they believed the federal government should be able to absorb a 3 percent reduction in their budget.
"We as governors understand that there are going to have to be some cuts to get our federal deficits under control," said Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin.
Lousiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said he had asked President Obama to delay new spending expected as part of the president's healthcare reform rather than allow sequester to hit, but that Obama was not "interested" in such a solution.
"My sense was he felt that the election has consequences," Jindal said, adding that his "perspective is you can cut less than 3 percent of the federal budget without devastating consequences."
The White House has urged Congress to offset the $85 billion in automatic, across-the-board spending cuts with a package that equally combines future cuts and new revenues raised by closing tax loopholes for the wealthiest individuals and corporations.
But Republicans have insisted they will not agree to any deal that includes a tax increase, noting rates increased last month as part of the "fiscal cliff" deal.
With a deal seeming increasingly unlikely, the Obama administration is making a last-ditch effort to pressure Republicans to buckle. On Sunday, the White House released a report detailing the state-by-state impact of the sequestration cuts, highlighting potential furloughs, canceled projects and expected layoffs.
On Tuesday, Obama will hold a rally in Newport News, Va. — where the economy is heavily dependent on the defense industry — as he hopes to gain political leverage.
But Republicans this weekend accused Obama of playing politics rather than working to avert the cuts. They say they agree that air traffic delays, teacher firings and reductions in vital defense and research programs are regrettable — but that it is the president's responsibility to find a solution.
"The president should be calling us over somewhere — Camp David, the White House, somewhere — and sitting down and trying to avert these cuts," Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told CNN.
Vice President Biden, introducing Obama at Monday's event, seemed to acknowledge the long odds of striking a deal. He described Washington as "frozen" in "intense partisanship," and acknowledged that the administration's calls for a "balanced" package were not likely to be received as such by opponents across the aisle.
"One man's balance is another man's imbalance," Biden said. "That's what we've got to talk about."
But Obama urged legislators to begin work toward a deal, noting that the longer the sequester is in place, the more dire the effect on the economy.
"The American people have worked too hard for too long rebuilding from one crisis only to see their elected officials cause another," Obama said.
Polling released last week suggests the American public is more likely to blame congressional Republicans than the president if the cuts occur.
A USA Today survey released Friday showed 49 percent would blame Republicans, while 31 percent would do the same for the president.
But GOP lawmakers believe they can reverse that sentiment by emphasizing that it was the White House that originally suggested the trigger as an incentive for a long-term deficit deal.
Lawmakers and aides pointed to an article by Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward, published Friday afternoon, that accused Obama of "moving the goal posts" by insisting on new revenues as part of a sequester offset.
That provoked a sharp rebuke from White House press secretary Jay Carney, who tweeted over the weekend that it was "willfully wrong" to suggest that the administration had not always anticipated a deficit deal to include spending cuts.
The intensified finger-pointing primarily betrays the fact that a deal seems increasingly unlikely. The Senate is expected to take up a Democrat-backed bill this week, but that plan will not likely garner enough Republican votes to move it to the floor. A Republican bill is also expected to fail in the Senate, while the House is unlikely to act at all.
On Monday, the president said he hoped that legislators would be able to break through the partisan gridlock and avert the cuts.
"We're all concerned about our politics ... but at some point we've got to do some governing," Obama said.