With just one week to go before the looming sequester is due to kick in, President Barack Obama is making a huge show of his attempts to avoid the automatic spending cuts — while behind the scenes his administration is putting more emphasis on shaming Republicans into a way out of the mess.
This week alone, senior White House officials and Cabinet aides have held daily meetings with outside groups, speaking with everyone from healthcare workers to teachers to law enforcement officials, to talk about how the sequester would hurt them and to instruct them how to lobby Republicans on Capitol Hill to strike a deal.
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During a meeting on Wednesday, administration officials told public health experts they had a “critical window” from March 2 to the March 27 expiration of the continuing resolution that will fund government agencies in which they can “make noise so lawmakers feel it when sequestration takes effect,” Emily Holubowich, an advocate for health budgets, told Politico.
And on Thursday, about two-dozen law enforcement officials talked out the sequester with several Obama aides, including Mary Lou Leary, the acting assistance attorney general, and Tony Robinson, a special assistant to Obama for justice.
Earlier in the week, the president himself hosted firefighters and other first responders at an event at the White House, where he reminded them that Republicans are willing to forfeit the jobs of thousands of emergency and other workers instead of agreeing to his plan of cuts and tax hikes.
He followed that up with a series of interviews with eight local TV stations, outlining the impact of the sequester in dire terms in such areas as employment and social services.
Yet, all the while, Obama has failed to reach out to the two men who could best help him out of the mess — House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. After weeks of no contact at all, the president finally called the two men on Thursday, but there is little indication that the conversation led to any meaningful conclusion.
By Friday, the White House continued with its dire warnings, with Jay Carney, the spokesman, telling reporters that there is very little flexibility in how to roll out automatic spending cuts slated to take effect on March 1 because of the way the sequester law is written.
The president also has dispatched Cabinet members across the country to deliver the administration’s message to the people, said Politico. And Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, and Education Secretary Arne Duncan testified about the cuts before the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Senior administration and Cabinet members are trumping up the worst-case scenarios at every turn.
On Friday, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood stood with Carney and told reporters $1 billion in cuts affected his department with the FAA bearing the brunt. That means major airports in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York would see cancelled flights and delays of 90 minutes or more. There would be a ripple effect on other airports too, including shuttered control towers and cancellations.
LaHood, a former Republican U.S. congressional representative, acknowledged that the administration hoped his warnings might sway the views of his fellow party members.
"I would describe my presence here with one word: Republican," the former congressman from Peoria, Ill. said. "They're hoping that maybe I can influence some of the people in my own party."
More White House meetings are due to take place over the next week with groups including environmentalists and scientific researchers.
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