POLITICS: White House

Obama takes fight over budget cuts to Virginia, rejects GOP proposal

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Photo - President Barack Obama gestures during a speech about automatic defense budget cuts, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, at Newport News Shipbuilding in Newport News, Va.  (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
President Barack Obama gestures during a speech about automatic defense budget cuts, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, at Newport News Shipbuilding in Newport News, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Politics,White House,Brian Hughes,Politics Digest

President Obama used a campaign-style trip to a Virginia shipbuilding plant Tuesday to renew his call for Republicans to work with him to prevent defense cuts from kicking in Friday even as he rebuffed a GOP plan that would allow him to determine where to trim the budget.

Surrounded by factory workers in Newport News, Va., Obama turned to the military-dependent community to again warn about the dangers of the so-called sequester, a series of automatic budget cuts that would trim $85 billion this year and $1.2 trillion over the next decade.

"In a few days, Congress might allow a series of immediate painful arbitrary budget cuts to take place," Obama said with a massive submarine propeller hanging behind him. "All told, the sequester could cost tens of thousands of jobs right here in Virginia."

Republicans, who charged that Obama is exaggerating the impact of the cuts, portrayed Obama's latest trip as a political stunt detrimental to deadlocked negotiations in Washington.

GOP lawmakers have floated the idea of giving Obama the flexibility to specify where the cuts are enacted this year -- avoiding unpopular reductions in areas like public safety and transportation -- but the president said "there's no smart way to do that."

Obama wants to replace the sequester with a package of tax increases and spending cuts. And while he

insisted that he's not playing a "blame game" with Republicans, he charged that GOP opposition to the higher taxes he wants was the lone obstacle to a deal.

The president took Republican Rep. Scott Rigell, of Virginia, with him on Air Force One to Hampton Roads to underscore that some Republicans are as eager as he is to avoid the sequester cuts. While some prominent conservatives suggested allowing the cuts to kick in Friday, others like Rigell are urging a compromise to avoid spending reductions they say would harm their communities.

"Even if you hold the view that defense spending should come down, this is not the right way to do it," Rigell said.

The sequester cuts would take effect Friday, but their impact won't be felt for at least a month, giving Obama and Congress time to work out a deal even if they miss this week's deadline. Still, Obama warned that Virginia could see 90,000 civilian Defense Department jobs furloughed and maintenance of Navy ships in Norfolk would be delayed.

While Obama blamed Republicans for the impasse, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, on Tuesday was pointing to the Democratic Senate as the culprit, noting that the upper chamber has yet to offer a compromise that would avoid Friday's cuts.

"We should not have to move a third bill before the Senate gets off their ass and begins to do something," Boehner said. He accused Obama of using "military men and women as a prop in yet another campaign rally to support his tax hikes."

Even some Democrats on Capitol Hill expressed frustration with the White House's handling of current negotiations.

"It's a little late in the game for this blitz from the White House," lamented a Senate Democratic aide. "They allowed this public indifference to fester. Public opinion on this issue isn't changing anytime soon."

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Brian Hughes

White House Correspondent
The Washington Examiner