WASHINGTON The automatic budget cuts set to take hold this week were roundly condemned Sunday as governors, lawmakers and administration officials hoped for a deal to stave off the $85 billion reduction in government services.
Suggestions intended to instill a spirit of compromise included bringing all sides to the bargaining table, where they could act like “adults, a presidential summit at Camp David and even a field trip to watch “Lincoln.”
The alternative, as the White House outlined, is a damaging impact on everything from commercial flights to classrooms and meat inspections.
With Friday’s deadline nearing, few in the nation’s capital were optimistic that a realistic alternative could be found. Instead of dealing with problem at hand, both sides made assigning blame a priority as the clock ticked down.
“Unless the Republicans are willing to compromise and do a balanced approach, I think it will kick in,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.
No, it’s the Democrats who are to blame, the GOP countered.
“The reason there is no agreement is because there’s no leadership from the president on actually recognizing what the problem is,” said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.
The administration warned of the approaching economic fallout.
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. Furloughed meat inspectors could leave plants idled.
Some governors said the impasse was just the latest crisis in Washington that is keeping businesses from hiring and undermining the ability of state leaders to develop their own spending plans.
Obama has not been able to find success for his approach of reducing deficits through a combination of targeted savings and tax increases. House Republicans have said reduced spending needs to be the focus and have rejected the president’s demand to include higher taxes as part of a compromise.
LaHood warned travelers could face delays because the Federal Aviation Administration is in line for $600 million in spending cuts.
“We’re going to try and cut as much as we possibly can out of contracts and other things that we do,” said LaHood, a Republican serving in the Democratic Obama administration. ‘’But in the end, there has to be some kind of furlough of air traffic controllers, and that then will also begin to curtail or eliminate the opportunity for them to guide planes in and out of airports.”
There are fewer signs of urgency among congressional leaders, who have recently indicated their willingness to let the cuts take effect and stay in place for weeks, if not much longer.
The cuts would trim from domestic and defense spending alike, leading to furloughs for hundreds of thousands of workers. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said the cuts would harm the readiness of U.S. fighting forces.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., called those defense cuts “unconscionable” and urged Obama to call lawmakers to the White House or the presidential retreat of Camp David for a last-minute budget summit.
“I won’t put all the blame all on the president of the United States. But the president leads. The president should be calling us over somewhere — Camp David, the White House, somewhere — and us sitting down and trying to avert these cuts,” McCain said.
LaHood, who served as a Republican representing Illinois in the U.S. House, urged his colleagues to watch “Lincoln,” Steven Spielberg’s film about President Abraham Lincoln’s political skills.
“Everybody around here ought to go take a look at the ‘Lincoln’ movie, where they did very hard things by working together, talking together and compromising,” LaHood said. “That’s what’s needed here.”