Bleak forecast given to states on U.S. cuts

Pressure mounts over sequester as governors gather

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WASHINGTON -- Children won't be vaccinated, airport security lines will grow, federal workers and government contractors will lose their jobs, drug addicts won't get treatment, schools will lose funding, civilian military personnel will have their hours and wages cut, and the states will be more susceptible to pollution and infectious disease.

The White House warned Sunday that Pennsylvania and other states will feel those effects and more because of the impending cuts on every area of federal spending that will go into effect Friday if Congress can't agree on a plan to avoid the so-called sequestration.

The administration intensified its campaign, emphasizing lost jobs, as Congress was returning to work this week and some governors were expressing anguish over the potential impact of the impending automatic cuts in federal spending.

"We don't do across-the-board cuts in state government, and it's a stupid idea in the federal government," said Gov. Dannel P. Malloy of Connecticut, a Democrat.

Daniel I. Werfel, controller of President Barack Obama's budget office, held an unusual Sunday briefing to catalog the effects of the cuts, state by state.

Cabinet officers sounded the alarm on television talk shows, and their concerns resonated with state officials, who were in the capital for the winter meeting of the National Governors Association.

The White House report said: "Pennsylvania could lose up to $271,000 in funds that provide services to victims of domestic violence, resulting in up to 1,000 fewer victims being served. In Texas, approximately 52,000 civilian Department of Defense employees would be furloughed, reducing gross pay by around $274.8 million in total.

"Ohio will lose approximately $25.1 million in funding for primary and secondary education, putting around 350 teacher and aide jobs at risk. In Georgia, around 4,180 fewer children will receive vaccines for diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, whooping cough, influenza and hepatitis B due to reduced funding for vaccinations of about $286,000."

Republican governors weren't buckling under the pressure.

Gov. Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania, a Republican, said in an interview, "The White House is in a campaign mode of trying to scare everybody, rather than sitting down with Congress and working out what the solution is to the budget."

Gov. Dave Heineman of Nebraska, another Republican, said: "The White House is engaged in scare tactics. Every governor in this country knows how to cut their budget by 2 or 3 percent, and the White House ought to learn how to do it."

"The sequester is not the best way to do it," Mr. Heineman added. "We need greater flexibility in that process. But it's hard for me to believe that America is going to be devastated by the federal government cutting its budget 2 or 3 percent. That's a bunch of malarkey."

In a conference call with reporters, the White House blamed the problem on Republican ideology and inflexibility.

"We're not asking for a my-way-or-the-highway approach. We can get rid of this whole thing ... by getting rid of loopholes," said Mr. Pfeiffer. "Republicans are making a policy choice that these cuts are better for the economy than closing loopholes for the wealthy."

The choice, according to an administration analysis, would mean Pennsylvania would have $26.4 million fewer federal education dollars to spend, putting 360 teacher and aide jobs at risk. It would mean 2,300 fewer Pennsylvania children will have access to Head Start, the state would lose $1.5 million in grants for fish and wildlife protection, that 36,860 fewer unemployed Pennsylvanians would get help finding jobs, and that 5,280 fewer vaccines would be administered for diseases such as measles, whooping cough and tetanus.

The analysis details more than $220 million in direct losses of federal funding to the state. That includes cuts of about $150 million in pay to civilian military personnel.

Administration aides said that's reality, not fear-mongering.

"I can understand why the American people would think these things wouldn't actually happen because the Republicans have pushed us to the brink on three or four occasions over the last four years and then [agreed to a solution], but there is nothing to indicate now that they will change their position," Mr. Pfeiffer said.

"Are a lot of these things going to go into effect on the first day? No, but there are hundreds of thousands of Americans who are working today who will lose their jobs as a result of this," he said.

Still, aides say there's a way to avoid it -- if only Republicans would agree to close tax loopholes that help the wealthy.

Republican leaders have supported such an idea before, but it was in the context of broader deals that included spending cuts and reductions in tax rates.

Michael Steel, spokesman for Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the House has acted twice to replace the sequester with common-sense spending cuts, but the Senate has not followed suit.

"Now it is up to President Obama and his Senate," Mr. Steel said Sunday.

Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Butler, said Republicans don't want the sequester to happen but they're willing to let it happen in order to force a longer-term solution to the country's debt crisis.

He said the sequester will affect both federal workers and the private sector, too, as job losses translate into less money being spent in other economic sectors.

"This is going to hurt everybody," Mr. Kelly said in an interview late last week.

In Philadelphia, Democratic Rep. Chaka Fattah said there's still time for Congress to avoid the sequester.

"I believe it's not going to happen. I believe the Congress is going to come to its senses and do what's responsible," he said late last week.

One resolution might allow the administration more discretion in how it makes the $85 billion worth of cuts. As it stands, the Department of Defense budget would be cut by about 13 percent over the next seven months, and all other departments and programs would be cut uniformly by about 9 percent.

Lawmakers including Mr. Fattah are hoping for an agreement before Friday that would afford more flexibility.

Mr. Fattah said he prefers "smart cuts" to automatic across-the-board ones.

"There are some parts of the government that really can't afford to have cuts because they're involved in very important jobs, whether it's meat inspectors or [Transportation Safety Administration] employees that make sure you can get on a plane safely. We just can't afford to put them on a furlough," Mr. Fattah said.

The administration wants to avoid that, too, aides said during Sunday's meeting with reporters from around the country.

Sunday's conference call came after a week in which Democrats made similar cases by dispatching Cabinet secretaries across the country and bringing a stream of witnesses to Washington to testify about the effects of sequestration on public health, transportation, defense and education.

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The New York Times contributed. Bureau chief Tracie Mauriello: 1-703-996-9292 or tmauriello@post-gazette.com.


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