With deadline looming, White House details massive spending cuts
(CNN) — Food safety inspections, early education classrooms and mental health treatment are all at risk if massive forced spending cuts are allowed to take effect at the end of this week, the White House said Sunday.
Those cuts would accompany deep reductions in defense spending — including stalling maintenance on Navy ships — that are also poised to trigger March 1.
In detailed reports for all 50 states and the District of Columbia, President Barack Obama’s budget office spelled out how the cuts — which are the result of a stalemate between Congressional Republicans and the White House over reducing the federal deficit — will affect localities, putting the stakes of the budget debate in stark terms as Congress returns to Washington after a week-long break.
But some Republicans question whether the Obama administration is simply crafting a doomsday scenario for the indiscriminate cuts to force Congressional Republicans into accepting a deal that includes more tax increases for wealthy Americans, which GOP leaders say is unacceptable. They would rather cut spending on entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security, which they say are the real drivers of the country’s debt.
Nationwide, the White House said, 70,000 children would no longer have access to Head Start early education programs, and 10,000 teacher jobs would be at risk, consequences that Education Secretary Arne Duncan detailed Sunday.
“It creates tremendous instability,” Duncan said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “And there are literally teachers now who are getting pink slips, who are getting notices that they can’t come back this fall.”
Reduced federal funding for vaccines would mean children would go without shots that prevent measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, whooping cough, influenza and hepatitis B. The report indicated 2,100 fewer food inspections would occur, and medical research would be stalled.
Hundreds of thousands of “seriously mentally ill adults and seriously emotionally disturbed children” could go without treatment for their ailments, according to the White House, which could lead to higher rates of hospitalization and incarceration.
And the Federal Aviation Administration would be forced to cut $600 million from its budget, which the agency’s boss said Sunday would result in furloughs — or forced leave — for nearly all of the FAA’s 47,000 employees.
“We’re going to try and cut as much as we possibly can out of contracts and other things that we do,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said. “But in the end, there has to be some kind of furlough of air traffic controllers, and that will also begin to curtail or eliminate the opportunity for them to guide planes in and out of airports.”
All told, non-defense programs would be forced to reduce their spending by 9%, the White House said, while defense programs would have to cut 13%.
Cuts to the military would include calling off maintenance on 11 ships in Norfolk, Virginia, home of the world’s largest naval base. Air Force operations in the Commonwealth could be cut by $8 million. In San Diego, maintenance on five ships would be canceled. In Jacksonville, Florida, funding to maintain an aircraft depot would disappear.
The state-by-state analysis by the White House is a continuation of the administration’s attempt to demonstrate in stark terms how the forced spending cuts would affect Americans — and to pin the blame on the GOP. That effort has been met with some skepticism from Republicans.
“Rather than issuing last-minute press releases on cuts to first responders or troop training or airport security, [Obama] should propose smarter ways to cut Washington spending. After all, Washington spending, even with the sequester, is bigger than it was when he got here,” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said in response to the White House’s detailing of the cuts.
“There are smarter ways to reduce the size of government. And with the national debt well over $16 trillion dollars, it’s time for the White House to stop spending all its time campaigning, and start finding smarter ways to reduce the deficit,” McConnell continued.
Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, said “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.”
Some Republicans argue the White House is exaggerating how much Americans would feel the effects of the cuts.
“The American people, we see all these claims about what a tragedy it’s going to be,” Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma said on “Fox News Sunday,” pointing to statements from LaHood and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
“They have plenty of flexibility in terms of discretion on how they spend money,” Coburn said. “There are easy ways to cut this money that the American people will never feel. What you hear is an outrage because nobody wants to cut spending.”
Another Republican, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, called the dire warnings from Obama administration officials merely “great political theater about how cutting less than 3% of the federal budget can cause all these awful consequences.”
“Here is (Obama’s) chance to say, ‘Here is how we can do it better.’ The reality is, the federal budget, even after the cuts, will be larger than last year’s budget,” Jindal said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Dan Pfeiffer, a senior adviser to the president, denied that the White House was overstating the effects of the cuts, saying that it’s Obama’s “responsibility to make sure the American people understand what’s at stake here in this debate.”
“This is going to have a very real impact on people’s lives and on communities, and people need to know why that is,” Pfeiffer said. “Are all these things going to go into effect on the first day? No. But there are hundreds of thousands of Americans who are working today who will lose their jobs as a consequence of this Republican decision.”
This article was written by CNN’s Kevin Liptak. TM & © 2012 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.