Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Monday defended the White House's efforts to highlight the fallout from the $85 billion in sequester cuts set to hit this week, saying the Obama administration was "not using scare tactics."
"We're sending up a warning flare, not to scare anybody, just so people understand there are consequences to the sequester, and it could all be avoided if people in both parties would embrace the president's plan," LaHood, a former Republican congressman, said on MSNBC.
President Obama has warned the cuts could cost teachers and emergency workers their jobs, roll back healthcare and education programs, and undercut military readiness. On Sunday, the White House released reports detailing the effect of the cuts in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
LaHood is one of a number of Cabinet members who have also publicly warned of the harm sequestration would bring. The secretary appeared Friday at the White House press briefing, warning that furloughs and layoffs to air traffic controllers could lead to flight delays and cancellations across the country.
"This is very painful for us because it involves our employees, but it's going to very painful for the flying public," LaHood said.
LaHood went on to knock his former Republican colleagues, saying they appeared unwilling to negotiate a sequester offset.
“I am a Republican. My audience is trying to persuade my former colleagues that they need to come to the table with a proposal, which frankly they haven’t done. While the president has, the Republicans haven’t,” LaHood told CNN over the weekend.
Those comments drew fire from top Republicans, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
“Shame on Ray LaHood,” McCain told CNN, adding that a report from The Washington Post's Bob Woodward suggested that Obama was moving the goalposts in asking for new revenues as part of a sequester deal.
“The president said during the campaign — won’t happen. I said during the campaign, and so did others say, we’ve got to stop this from happening. The president has now said it was Congress’s fault. We know the president wasn’t telling the truth about that,” McCain said.
The White House has pushed back against Woodward's story, arguing that the sequester was always intended to be replaced by a package that included spending cuts and new revenues.
Republican lawmakers oppose efforts to offset the sequester with any tax hikes.
On Monday, LaHood said that despite the partisan rancor, he still believed that legislators returning back to Washington could strike a deal in time.
"I do, I really do, I'm optimistic about this," LaHood said. "I just think there's an awful lot of shared pain that's going to take place on March 1st if this sequester goes in. I don't think anybody wants that to happen."
But he also reiterated his call to congressional Republicans to "come to the table."
"If you don't like some parts of [President Obama's proposal], then let's talk about it," he said. "But there has to be a discussion this week so that people do have confidence in their leaders."