White House warns states about pain from March 1 budget cuts

By Roberta Rampton, Reuters

WASHINGTON — With five days left before US$85 billion is slashed from U.S. government budgets, the White House issued more dire warnings about the harm the cuts will do to Americans, breaking down the loss of jobs and services to each of the states. The estimates show how many teachers could lose their jobs in each state, how many toddlers could be kicked out of subsidized preschool programs, and how many children could lose funding for vaccines for measles and mumps. But Republicans, who advocate budget cuts, said the warning was overplayed, and called on President Barack Obama to apply what is known as the “sequester” in a more careful way, rather than slashing budgets across the board. “They’ve rolled out this great political theater about how cutting less than 3 percent of the federal budget is going to cause all these awful consequences,” Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, a Republican, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“Here’s his chance to say, ‘Here’s how we can do it better,’” Jindal said, suggesting Congress and the White House give departments the ability to cut spending on less essential services. Lawmakers return to Washington on Monday after a weeklong recess and unless they reach what appears to be an unlikely last-minute deal with the White House to postpone what is known as the sequester, the across-the-board cuts will take effect March 1. Obama has urged Congress to buy more time for a broad budget deal with a short-term measure that boosts revenues by ending some tax breaks for the wealthy. Senate Democrats have put forward a plan that focuses on those tax loopholes, and this week Republicans are expected to propose alternatives. But there has been almost no negotiation between the White House and Congress on the issue. “Surely he can put forward a plan to cut 2 to 3 percent from a US$3.5 trillion budget,” Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement on Sunday. Obama spoke with governors at a black-tie White House dinner on Sunday, where New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Republican who praised Obama after Superstorm Sandy devastated his state’s coast, was seated beside first lady Michelle Obama. But the president kept his brief remarks apolitical, and did not mention the impending sequester. “We know we’ve got more work to do, more jobs to create, more children to educate, more roads to repair. The task before us is to find smart, common sense solutions to each of these challenges that we can move forward on,” Obama said.

Washington, DC, South to Be Hardest Hit