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White House Is Taking the Fight to Avoid Sequester Beyond the Beltway

The White House is aiming its latest warnings about the dire consequences of deep across-the-board spending cuts at an audience beyond the Beltway, issuing a new report Sunday that breaks down the effects on every state.

Ahead of a black-tie dinner that President Barack Obama is hosting for the country’s governors, the administration released details on how each state would be hurt by $85 billion in spending reductions slated to kick in at the end of the week. The White House has been ratcheting up the political pressure on congressional Republicans to work toward a budget deal that would replace the sequester.

“This will have serious programmatic consequences for all 50 states and the District of Columbia,” Jason Furman, principal deputy director of the National Economic Council, said in a conference call to unveil the study.

Furman cited a few specific cases of anticipated cutbacks, citing examples from Ohio and Kentucky — home states of the top Republicans in the House and Senate. He pointed to several areas, including education, national defense and public health, that the administration says would suffer from the budget cuts.

In Ohio, a loss of $25.1 million in funding for primary and secondary education would put about 350 teacher and aide jobs at risk, according to the report. Roughly 34,000 fewer students would be served and 100 fewer schools would receive funding.

“When you look at other services, in Kentucky … 400 fewer victims of domestic violence could end up being served as a result of the funding cuts under the sequester,” Furman said.

Military readiness centered in Virginia would get hit, with about 90,000 civilian Defense Department employees set to be furloughed. The Navy would be forced to cancel the maintenance of 11 ships based in the Norfolk area, the report said. Obama is scheduled to travel to Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia on Tuesday to outline the consequences there.

Administration officials also directed their message toward areas in the Northeast that were devastated last fall by Hurricane Sandy.

“What you will see is a systematic reduction in all of the activities for Sandy relief that were funded,” Office of Management and Budget Controller Danny Werfel said. “The $3 billion reduction will be spread across a variety of program areas, and depending on when that money was intended to pay out … those funds will be cut. It’s not a question of clawback because we’re in the process of initiating the Sandy relief activities, so it’s less money going to Sandy relief efforts than was intended by Congress.”

With lawmakers unlikely to reach an agreement before the cuts begin to take effect on March 1, senior Obama adviser Dan Pfeiffer sought to lay the blame on Republicans.

“With a little bit of compromise and common sense, this could be resolved,” Pfeiffer said. “The Republicans are making a policy choice that these cuts are better than eliminating loopholes that benefit the wealthy.”

For their part, Republicans accused Obama of playing politics instead of trying to head off the sequester.

“Republicans in the House have voted — twice — to replace President Obama’s sequester with smarter spending cuts,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, referring to measures the House passed in the last Congress. “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.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a statement that Obama hasn’t come forward with any alternative plan to cut spending.

“Rather than issuing last-minute press releases on cuts to first responders or troop training or airport security, he should propose smarter ways to cut Washington spending,” McConnell said. “After all, Washington spending, even with the sequester, is bigger than it was when he got here. There are smarter ways to reduce the size of government. And with the national debt well over $16 trillion, it’s time for the White House to stop spending all its time campaigning and start finding smarter ways to reduce the deficit.”

Congressional Republicans have been demanding that any plan to avoid the sequester make budget savings exclusively through spending reductions and savings in entitlement programs. Arguing that Obama got his revenue in the deal to sidestep the fiscal cliff in January, they are resisting White House insistence that spending cuts be balanced with further revenue.

While some departments and agencies have outlined protocols for managing the sequester, Werfel indicated that a lot of the advance work has not been completed less than a week before March 1.

“Every agency right now is working diligently … on what we call a sequester implementation plan,” he said. “There are constraints to what an agency can do in taking this across-the-board $85 billion cut. The way the law is written, it has to be taken from a percentage cut from every project, program and activity.”

Werfel added that while agencies continued to look at reprogramming options, officials have “come to the conclusion over and over again that these reprogramming authorities and any flexibilities at agencies disposal just isn’t enough to fully protect mission.”

Some Republicans contend that the crisis over the sequester is being overblown, while others say the cuts are the strong medicine needed to tame the federal deficit. Senior administration officials led by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Education Secretary Arne Duncan appeared on the Sunday morning television news programs to highlight the effects of a sequester on core government programs, including air traffic control.

Senate Democrats plan to bring to the floor this week a $110 billion package that would forestall the sequester’s spending cuts through a mix of tax provisions aimed at collecting more revenue from the wealthy, future defense spending reductions and the termination of the direct payments program that provides subsidies to farmers. Republicans have already said they consider that proposal to be a partisan stunt, signaling lawmakers are not near any agreement and people need to brace for the reality of spending cuts and furloughs.

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