POLITICS

Byron York: GOP governors see Obama trap in spending cuts

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Photo - Photo by John W. Adkisson/Getty Images
Photo by John W. Adkisson/Getty Images
Politics,Byron York,Politics Digest

"There are hundreds of thousands of Americans who are working today who will lose their jobs as a consequence of this Republican decision," White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said during a conference call with reporters Sunday afternoon. "This is going to have a very real impact on people's lives and on communities."

The Obama administration has entered the full-court-press stage of its campaign to defeat a measure, known as sequestration, that would slow the rate of growth of federal spending. Its latest tactic is to release a state-by-state analysis claiming the cuts would hit hard in every corner of the country.

Louisiana, for example, would lose $15.8 million in education funds, putting 220 teachers' jobs at risk, according to the White House. Head Start would be eliminated for 1,400 children, and there would be many more cuts in military spending, law enforcement, job training, environmental and other programs.

Wisconsin, to take another example, would lose $8.5 million in education funds under this scenario, putting 120 teachers' jobs at risk, with Head Start eliminated for 900 children, as well as a variety of other cuts.

South Carolina would lose $12.5 million in education funds, the White House said, putting 170 teachers' jobs at risk, with Head Start eliminated for 900, and much, much more.

It just so happened that the Republican governors of Louisiana, Wisconsin and South Carolina were in Washington on Monday for a National Governors Association gathering, which included a session with the president. When reporters asked about that new state-by-state analysis of possible cuts -- which just happened to be released on the eve of the meeting -- the governors saw a White House political trap.

"You all got it in the media before we got those," said Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. "So I think it's pretty clear that those were put out for political purposes ... If you were serious about having a discussion with the governors about the implications, you wouldn't give it to the press before you gave it to the governors."

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal added that Obama seemed bound and determined to use the sequestration fight to win higher taxes, willing to hold out the prospect of painful cuts to accomplish his goal.

"I think the president is trying to force us into a false choice," Jindal said. "The reality is, there is no reason for these cuts to be made this way." Obama could instruct his Cabinet to emphasize cuts to spending on things like consultants, Jindal said, and not on things like Head Start. "It is the president's job as the chief executive to prioritize."

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said the governors asked Obama to come up with better cuts, or even to delay future spending, like the Medicaid expansion in Obamacare, if the budget situation is as dire as the administration says. "The answer to everything we got was no," Haley said.

As the governors spoke, there was a real question of how much flexibility the president has to shape the cuts that are contained in the sequestration measure, which he proposed and signed into law with bipartisan support in 2011. Does Obama have the authority to move money around so government consultants would take more of a hit than Head Start?

Jindal believes so. "Everybody has known that this was coming," he said. "When did [Obama] go to his Cabinet heads and say, 'If you had to make these reductions, what would be the least painful way to do it?' "

There's no indication Obama has done anything to make the cuts easier on the public. To the contrary, it is in his political interest to make the cuts as painful as possible and then blame them on Republicans.

Nevertheless, it is not entirely clear how much leeway Obama has, given that the law orders across-the-board cuts applied to all "programs, projects, and activities" that are not specifically exempted, like entitlement programs and active-duty military staffing. The governors conceded that Obama might need some help from Congress in making the cuts more palatable -- not that the president would ever want to do that.

At one point, Haley called the whole situation "frustrating" and "bothersome." And in the end, the governors sounded like people who had not only had it with Obama but were also unwilling to defend their party's leaders in the House and Senate. "We're not here speaking on behalf of Republicans on the Hill," Walker said. "We're speaking on behalf of Republican governors. And the contrast is, we're providing leadership, balancing budgets, and doing it without raising taxes."

Byron York, The Examiner's chief political correspondent, can be contacted at byork@washingtonexaminer.com. His column appears on Tuesday and Friday, and his stories and blog posts appear on washingtonexaminer.com.

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