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Walker: Obama must lead on sequester

Governor pushes administration to suggest different spending cuts

Feb. 26, 2013
 
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Gov. Scott Walker (right) talks with White House Director of Intergovernmental Affairs David Agnew on Monday at the National Governors Association in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington. / Associated Press

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WASHINGTON — Gov. Scott Walker had a message Monday for President Barack Obama: Put up or shut up on the $85 billion in automatic budget cuts set to take effect at week’s end.

Following a meeting between the president and the nation’s governors, Walker said if Obama is so concerned about the across-the-board cuts collectively known as sequestration he should provide Congress with his own spending reductions plan.

“I’m calling on his administration to put forward better, more responsible cuts,” Walker said. “If it’s the arbitrary nature of the cuts that’s the problem, he should come with reliable, more responsible alternatives.”

Walker, who is in town for the annual National Governors Association winter meeting, joined Republican governors Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Nikki Haley of South Carolina in speaking to reporters at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, whose headquarters faces the White House.

The trio accused Obama of playing campaign politics on the sequester process that is triggering the cuts — something they say was his idea in the first place. Obama has called the cuts that would begin on Friday too austere for a nation still struggling to rebound from a recession and has urged Congress to come up with a debt-reduction plan that includes spending cuts and revenues to replace the sequester.

“It’s time for the president to show leadership,” said Jindal, chairman of the Republican Governors Association and a potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate. “He’s been engaged in an almost nonstop campaign trying to scare the American people.”

Jindal suggested Obama delay the implementation of parts of the new health care law, such as the expansion of Medicaid, as part of a spending reduction plan.

“It’s up to the president to go to Congress and show how he will prioritize these cuts,” Jindal said.

Walker said the president is dead set on increasing taxes so the government can spend more. He said the Obama administration could learn from the nation’s governors about making tough choices to balance a budget.

“I give him credit,” Walker said. “He’s candid about this. He believes there should be tax increases as well as spending reductions.”

A spokesman for the Democratic Governors Association issued a rebuttal. He said while Republicans have boasted of being of a different breed than House Republicans, they were long on talk and short on action.

“They refuse to urge congressional Republicans to embrace a balanced approach or end special tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans in order to stop job-killing automatic spending cuts, demonstrating they have no interest in a bipartisan agreement,” spokesman Danny Kanner said.

The automatic spending cuts were part of a 2011 deal to increase the nation’s debt limit. They were supposed to take effect Jan. 1 and continue through fiscal 2021, but Congress approved a two-month delay. The cuts could mean the loss of 750,000 jobs, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The cuts were designed to be so severe that Congress and the White House would feel compelled to avoid them by coming up with a less drastic plan to reduce the nation’s debt of more than $16 trillion, but that hasn’t happened.

A set of fact sheets the White House released Sunday shows the cuts will have a sweeping impact on Wisconsin and other states, though the blow to the Badger State will not be as harsh as that to those states with substantial military installations.

Everything from child care to work study programs in Wisconsin would face the budget scalpel. The state would lose $8.5 million in school funding, jeopardizing the jobs of about 120 teachers and aides. About 3,000 civilian Defense Department employees would be furloughed, amounting to a $12.4 million payroll reduction. The state would lose about $3.8 million in clean air and clean water funding and $1.4 million for fish and wildlife protection.

“The sequester’s across-the-board spending cuts represent a budget tornado,” Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, said in a statement released by Citizen Action of Wisconsin on the impact of the cuts. “This is irresponsible and unacceptable.”

Last week, the Federal Aviation Administration released a list of air traffic control towers that could be closed. The list included towers at eight Wisconsin airports — Central Wisconsin in Mosinee, Chippewa Valley Regional in Eau Claire, Kenosha Regional in Kenosha, Southern Wisconsin Regional in Janesville, La Crosse Municipal in La Crosse, Lawrence J. Timmerman in Milwaukee, Wittman Regional in Oshkosh and Waukesha County in Waukesha.

During the meeting, Obama told the governors the cuts could be avoided and asked for their help.

“I hope that you speak with your congressional delegation and remind them in no uncertain terms exactly what is at stake and exactly who is at risk,” Obama said. “Because here’s the thing — these cuts do not have to happen. Congress can turn them off any time with just a little bit of compromise.”

— Larry Bivins: 202-906-8105 or lbivins@postcrescent.com

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