Democrats press GOP to avoid budget cuts
By JONATHAN WEISMAN
The New York Times | February 23,2013
AP File Photo
President Barack Obama and the White House are pushing Repblicans to agree to a compromise preventing some government services from shutting down after March 1.
WASHINGTON — With automatic federal budget cuts almost certain to take effect in one week, the White House and top Democrats on Friday sought to increase the pressure on congressional Republicans to agree to a compromise that could prevent disruptions in government services after March 1.
Jay Carney, President Barack Obama’s press secretary, said the administration backed a plan by Senate Democrats to enact a combination of spending cuts and tax increases that would buy time for negotiations over a larger deficit reduction package. He called on Republicans, who say they will not accept any tax increases, to begin talks.
“We’re not seeing much interest at this point from Republican leaders in even engaging in a discussion about how we can move forward with a balanced package,” Carney said.
With Democratic governors gathered in Washington also clamoring for a resolution to the budget standoff, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood took to the podium at the White House briefing room to warn that airline and other travel was likely to be severely curtailed in the weeks ahead because of the required furlough of Federal Aviation Administration workers.
“Come together,” LaHood, a former Republican congressman from Illinois, urged Republicans and Democrats. “Talk to one another. Figure it out. That’s the way we have always done things around here.”
LaHood said he anticipated serious slowdowns in airline travel if no agreement was reached, putting a new emphasis on a point that Democrats know could help sway public opinion.
“Flights to major cities like New York, Chicago and San Francisco and others could experience delays of up to 90 minutes during peak hours because we have fewer controllers on staff,” LaHood said.
“Delays in these major airports will ripple across the country,” he added. “Cuts to budgets mean preventative maintenance and quick repair of runway equipment might not be possible, which could lead to more delays. And once airlines see the potential impact of these furloughs, we expect that they will change their schedules and cancel flights.”
LaHood also said that more than 100 air traffic control towers at small airports would be closed. “These are harmful cuts with real-world consequences that will cost jobs and hurt the economy,” LaHood said.
House Republicans say they have previously passed legislation that would replace the automatic cuts with reductions in other federal programs. They say the increase in taxes for the affluent that was agreed to at the beginning of the year was the last concession they will make on new revenue.
“The president got $600 billion in higher taxes just last month, with no spending cuts,” Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Speaker John A. Boehner, said after Carney’s remarks. “His appetite for tax hikes evidently knows no end. If the president really believes in ‘balance,’ it’s time to finally deal with our spending problem.”
The Senate will vote next week — probably on Wednesday — on a Democratic proposal to stave off the automatic cuts with a $110 billion deficit package that would impose a 30 percent minimum tax on income over $1 million, cut farm subsidies and slice military spending, but only after most troops have returned from Afghanistan in 2014.
But even Democrats concede that the plan has no chance of clearing the 60-vote threshold that would be needed to end debate on the measure.