WASHINGTON – The White House on Sunday detailed how deep spending cuts set to begin this week would affect programs in every state and the District of Columbia, as President Obama launched a last-ditch effort to pressure congressional Republicans to compromise on a way to stop the across-the-board cuts.
But while Republicans and Democrats were set to introduce dueling legislative proposals this week to avert the Friday start of the spending cuts, known as the sequester, neither side expected the measures to get enough support to pass Congress.
Lawmakers instead were planning for a lengthy round of political jostling ahead of another budget showdown in late March that could determine whether the $85 billion in cuts to domestic and defense spending stick.
Republicans questioned whether the sequester would be as harmful as the White House predicted and worked on a proposal that could preserve the cuts while giving the administration more discretion to choose how to implement them. Democrats expressed worry that they might be forced to accept the cuts if the public outcry is not loud enough in coming weeks.
Seeking to raise alarm among a public that has not paid much attention to the issue, the White House on Sunday released 51 fact sheets describing what would happen over the next seven months if the cuts go into effect.
The Washington area would be hit hard. Virginia, Maryland and the District cumulatively would lose $29 million in elementary and high school funding, putting at risk 390 teacher and teacher-aide jobs and affecting 27,000 students. About 2,000 poor children would lose access to early education, and less funding would mean 31,400 fewer HIV tests.
And nearly 150,000 civilian Defense Department personnel in the area would be partly furloughed through Sept. 30 – with a total average reduction in pay of $7,500. (Defense Department officials previously explained that the furloughs would probably come in the form of workers being asked to take one day off per week, amounting to a 20 percent cut in pay.)
The sequester – worth $1.2 trillion over 10 years – effectively orders the administration to make across-the-board, indiscriminate cuts to agency programs, sparing only some mandatory programs such as Medicaid and food stamps. It is the result of a 2011 deal forged by the White House and Congress to reduce federal borrowing. It was intended as a Draconian measure so blunt that it would force lawmakers to find alternative means of reducing the budget deficit. But while both parties have made suggestions for how to do so, no plan has gotten enough support to pass Congress.
On Sunday, White House officials spotlighted the implications in states that are politically important to Republicans. Hundreds of teachers could lose their jobs in Ohio, home to Republican House Speaker John Boehner, officials said, and thousands of children might not receive vaccines in conservative Georgia.
Obama’s aides said they would seek to make clear that Republicans are choosing to allow the cuts to go forward instead of agreeing to reduce the deficit by scaling back tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy.
It’s important to understand why the sequester is going to go into effect, said Dan Pfeiffer, an Obama senior adviser. The Republicans are making a policy choice that these cuts are better for the economy than eliminating loopholes that benefit the wealthy.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said the Obama administration could manage the cuts without them interfering too much with people’s lives.