WASHINGTON – The White House and Republicans kept up the unrelenting mudslinging Sunday over who’s to blame for roundly condemned budget cuts set to take effect at week’s end, with the administration detailing the potential fallout in each state and governors worrying about the mess.
But as leaders rushed past each other to decry the potentially devastating and seemingly inevitable cuts, they also criticized their counterparts for their roles in introducing, implementing and obstructing the $85 billion budget mechanism that could affect everything from commercial flights to classrooms to meat inspections. The GOP’s leading line of criticism hinged on blaming President Barack Obama’s aides for introducing the budget trigger in the first place, while the administration’s allies were determined to illustrate the consequences of the cuts as the product of Republican stubbornness.
Former Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour, aware the political outcome may be predicated on who is to blame, half-jokingly said Sunday, “Well, if it was a bad idea, it was the president’s idea.”
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said there was little hope to dodge the cuts “unless the Republicans are willing to compromise and do a balanced approach.”
Not so fast, Republicans interjected.
“I think the American people are tired of the blame game,” said Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.
Yet just a moment before, she was blaming Obama for putting the country on the brink of massive spending cuts that were initially designed to be so unacceptable that Congress would strike a grand bargain to avoid them.
Obama nodded to the squabble during his weekly radio and Internet address.
“Unfortunately, it appears that Republicans in Congress have decided that instead of compromising – instead of asking anything of the wealthiest Americans – they would rather let these cuts fall squarely on the middle class,” Obama said Saturday, in his last weekly address before the deadline.
“We just need Republicans in Washington to come around,” Obama added. “Because we need their help to finish the job of reducing our deficit in a smart way that doesn’t hurt our economy or our people.”
With Friday’s deadline nearing, few in the nation’s capital were optimistic that a realistic alternative could be found and all sought to cast the political process itself as the culprit. If Congress does not step in, top-to-bottom cuts will be spread across domestic and defense agencies in a way that would fundamentally change how government serves its people.
Obama senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer told reporters the GOP is “so focused on not giving the president another win” that they will cost thousands of jobs. To back up their point, the White House released state-by-state tallies for how many dollars and jobs the budget cuts would mean.
“The Republicans are making a policy choice that these cuts are better than eliminating loopholes,” Pfeiffer said.
And, yes, those cuts will hurt. They would slash from domestic and defense spending alike, leading to furloughs for hundreds of thousands of government workers and contractors.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said the cuts would harm the readiness of U.S. fighting forces. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said travelers could see delayed flights. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said 70,000 fewer children from low-income families would have access to Head Start programs. And furloughed meat inspectors could leave plants idled.
In Virginia, for instance, 90,000 Defense Department civilian employees could be furloughed, including nurses at Army hospitals, said Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va. He also said ship-repair contractors could lay off 300 of their 450 employees.
“There is no reason that this has to happen. We just need to find a balanced approach,” Kaine said.
White House officials also pointed to Ohio as another state that would be hit hard: $25.1 million in education spending and another $22 million for students with disabilities. The White House compiled the numbers from federal agencies and its own budget office. The numbers reflect the impact of the cuts this year. Unless Congress acts by Friday, $85 billion in cuts are set to take effect from March to September.
As to whether states could move money around to cover shortfalls, the White House said that depends on state budget structures and the specific programs. The White House did not have a list of which states or programs might have flexibility.
Republican leaders were not impressed by the reports for the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
“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,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio.