Obama urges nation’s governors to pressure Congress on sequester

Rachel Rose Hartman
The Ticket

President Barack Obama on Monday, addressing members of the National Governors Association gathered at the White House, implored the nation's governors to put pressure on Congress to avoid the sequester.

"While you're in town, I hope that you speak with your congressional delegation and remind them in no uncertain terms exactly what's at stake, exactly who is at risk. Because here is the thing: These cuts do not have to happen. Congress can turn them off any time with just a little bit of compromise," Obama said at a luncheon in the White House State Dining Room.

The sequester—$85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts—is set to go into effect March 1 absent a budget deal.

The administration has been blaming Republicans in Congress for failing to compromise on tax increases for the nation's wealthiest and some corporations—initiatives included in Democrats' budget proposals.

"I know that sometimes folks in Congress think that compromise is a bad word. They figure they'll pay a higher price at the polls for working with the other side," Obama added.

Obama, slamming Republicans who are against spending, also advocated investing in infrastructure. He highlighted the "Fix It First" plan he announced in his State of the Union address, and said that investing in infrastructure now will save maintenance costs down the road and maintain current jobs.

Members of the Obama administration, heads of federal agencies and others have been issuing severe warnings to Congress regarding the sequester. They say consequences will include: fewer responders to handle wildfires; reduced food safety inspection; less help for vulnerable Americans; and widespread flight delays and cancellations.

"Travelers should expect delays," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told reporters at Friday's White House press briefing, after announcing that the Federal Aviation Administration plans massive furloughs and the closing of air traffic control towers if the sequester goes into effect. "Flights to major cities like New York, Chicago, San Francisco and others could experience delays up to 90 minutes during peak hours because we have fewer controllers on staff. Delays in these major airports will ripple across the country."

The White House on Sunday night released state-by-state reports detailing what it says would be "devastating" impacts as a result of the sequester.

The topic of the sequester was notably absent, however, from Obama's speech Sunday night to the governors, who are in town for the National Governors Association's annual winter meeting. Instead, the president struck an appreciative tone at the White House dinner, commending the governors for steering their states through tough times.

Democratic Gov. Jack Markell of Delaware, chair of the NGA, followed Obama's address Sunday night by emphasizing the absence of politics from the night's celebration. "On this one night it’s a relief—politics doesn’t drive the conversation. We don’t speak of partisan issues or presidential aspirations," Markell said.

But Markell did note the sequester, and the big issues that the governors need to deal with over the course of the year. "One thing for sure is certain—you don’t let issues fester. You get to deal with education and health care, and even the sequester," Markell said to laughter and applause from the audience.

Republicans such as Speaker John Boehner have publicly stated their opposition to the sequester, though others have threatened to let it go into effect. Some Republicans over the weekend continued to accuse the administration of exaggerating the sequester's impact.

"They have plenty of flexibility in terms of discretion on how they spend money. There are easy ways to cut this money that the American people will never feel," Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma said on Fox News Sunday.

The president on Tuesday heads to Newport News, Va., to Newport News Shipbuilding where business has been cut back to help illustrate potential sequester cuts to defense.