Obama threatens popular spending programs, blames GOP

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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White House officials have identified some of the high-profile programs that President Barack Obama has threatened to slash via the 2011 sequester law, unless the GOP agrees to new taxes.

Republicans, in response, say they have offered alternatives to the 2011 plan to automatically cut $90 billion from spending programs by October. They have labeled the cuts as the “Obama-quester,” even though both parties agreed to the cuts in 2011.

Obama has a wide ability to pick and choose the cuts, because the sequester law said only that the cuts would be taken equally from defense and domestic programs.

The programs identified by Obama include many supported by the GOP — such as funding for science, food safety, education and small business — but few programs that are only backed by Obama and his progressive coalition.

The exempt programs include green-energy spending, funding for Planned Parenthood, enforcement of environmental regulations, funding for Obamacare and billions in foreign aid.

Obama’s announcement is a repeat of a traditional “gold watch” budget tactic, in which the president identifies high-profile and painful cuts to maximize his political leverage. Previous presidents, for example, have threatened to shut down the national parks in summer and close the Washington Monument in D.C.

But the circumstances are different now, because the sequester was proposed by President Barack Obama in 2011. Members of Congress from both parties approved the sequester, most with the hope that it would never be implemented.

Obama pushed it during closed-door budget negotiations as a harsh punishment for the congressional supercommittee’s failure to agree on budget cuts. Since then, Obama has repeatedly taken credit for the scheduled sequester cuts, which automatically trim $1.2 trillion from the 10-year, $47 trillion federal spending plan.

“Obama owns the sequester. He proposed it. He threatened to veto [any bill] getting rid of it,” said a statement from the National Republican Conference Committee.

However, the economy shrank by 0.1 percent in the last quarter of 2012, increasing Democratic opposition to spending cuts that can slow down the economy.

“We’re glad they’re laying out the devastating consequences of the president’s sequester, but the question remains: what are they willing to DO to prevent it?” said a statement from Brendan Buck, press aide to House Speaker John Boehner.

“We proposed a different mechanism to force deficit reduction in 2011,” he said. “We’ve twice passed legislation to replace it with common sense cuts and reforms.”

During the so-called “fiscal cliff” negotiations, “the president got his higher taxes on the wealthy last month — with no corresponding cuts. It’s time to finally make the cuts and reforms we all know are needed to save and strengthen our safety net programs,” Buck said. “The president is out of excuses.”

But Obama told Democrats Thursday that he expected to win a high-profile fight over the sequester cuts.

The GOP wants to cut Medicare and Social Security, education and aid for parents with disabled kids, he said. But the cuts “shouldn’t be on the backs of seniors … [or] young people trying to get a college education, [or] parents who are trying to give their kids a better start in life,” he declared.

He said he wants “to close some tax loopholes and deductions that the average American can’t take advantage of … [and] that is an argument I’m more than willing to engage in.”

White House officials pushed that message today in a off-camera meeting with reporters, and via a message identifying the high-profile programs that would be cut.

“Many Republicans in Congress refuse to ask the wealthy to pay a little more by closing tax loopholes. … Our economy is poised to take off but we cannot afford a self-inflicted wound from Washington,” the statement claimed, which sought to rename the sequester as “a sequester on the middle class.”

“70,000 young children would be kicked off Head Start, 10,000 teacher jobs would be put at risk, and funding for up to 7,200 special education teachers, aides, and staff could be cut,” said the White House statement.

“The automatic cuts triggered by a sequester would reduce loan guarantees to small businesses by up to $540 million. … If a sequester takes effect, up to 2,100 fewer food inspections could occur, putting families at risk and costing billions in lost food production … the public could suffer more foodborne illness, such as the recent salmonella in peanut butter outbreak and the E. coli illnesses linked to organic spinach, as well as cost the food and agriculture sector millions of dollars in lost production volume,” said Obama’s note.

“Progress towards cures would be delayed and several thousand researchers could lose their jobs,” said the note.

“If a sequester takes effect, up to 373,000 seriously mentally ill adults and seriously emotionally disturbed children could go untreated,” it claimed.

“The FBI and other law enforcement entities would see a reduction in capacity equivalent to more than 1,000 Federal agents … approximately 1,000 fewer criminal cases nationwide would be prosecuted, and some civil litigation defending the financial interests of the United States would not be pursued, potentially costing taxpayers billions of dollars … [they cut would ] eliminate funding for State and local grants that support firefighter positions and State and local emergency management personnel,” said the note.

“The effective percentage reductions will be approximately 9 percent for nondefense programs and 13 percent for defense programs … [the] large and arbitrary cuts will have severe impacts across the government,” said the Feb. 8 statement.

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