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Sequestration Warning From Obama Aide

Cuts Would Hurt Many; GOP Agrees, Demands Alternative

Washington — The Obama administration has begun a public campaign to head off scheduled automatic budget cuts that the administration said would reduce spending on programs including education, small business loans, food safety inspections and defense.

The across-the-board cuts, known as sequestration, “would cause very significant disruptions that would be felt far and wide across the country,” Danny Werfel, federal controller of the Office of Management and Budget, said yesterday in a briefing.

Werfel said the effects would include 600,000 women and children losing nutrition assistance, 70,000 children taken out of early childhood education programs, 2,100 fewer food inspections, and a reduction of as many as 12,000 scientists and students to conduct research on disease or innovation.

The March 1 deadline for the cuts to take effect marks another fiscal showdown between President Obama and Republicans. Unless Congress acts, an estimated $85 billion in budget cuts, divided about evenly between defense and domestic programs, are set to kick in. That’s part of the $1.2 trillion scheduled to be cut over 10 years.

Obama told House Democrats Thursday he wants to avoid the steep reduction in spending and is “prepared, eager and anxious to do a big deal” of larger spending reduction and tax increases to shrink the deficit. Failure to do so would damage the economy, he said.

House Speaker John Boehner has said he’ll oppose any delay of the so-called sequester unless Congress and the administration come up with other “cuts and reforms.”

His spokesman, Brendan Buck, said the Ohio Republican agrees that the sequester is the wrong way to cut spending. Still, he said Obama got a $650 billion tax increase on top earners as part of the last budget deal enacted on Jan. 2 and that it’s time to make cuts in federal spending.

“The president is out of excuses,” Buck said in a statement yesterday. “We’re glad they’re laying out the devastating consequences of the president’s sequester, but the question remains: What are they willing to do to prevent it?”

Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, joined by Washington Senator Patty Murray, chairwoman of the Budget Committee, and others, is working on a substitute fiscal plan that may be released next week after Obama delivers his State of the Union address Tuesday.

Werfel briefed reporters with Jason Furman, principal deputy director of the White House National Economic Council, as the administration sought to ramp up pressure on Republicans for a deal.

Furman said the cut in spending would cost “hundreds of thousands of jobs” in the United States.

The Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington has estimated at least 300,000 jobs would be lost in industries including computer services, tourism and package delivery.

While there are signs of strength in the housing market and gains in hiring, forecasters predict a slower U.S. economic expansion as tax increases and spending cuts crimp growth and the global economy remains weak.