WASHINGTON – Republicans in the Louisiana congressional delegation continued to blame the president on Wednesday for $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts that begin going into effect Friday
The Democrats pointed fingers at the GOP for the lack of progress.
President Barack Obama is scheduled to meet with congressional leaders on Friday at the White House as the cuts, called the sequester, start to happen. The White House has indicated cuts would hurt Louisiana through teacher losses, substantial reductions in the pay of nearly 7,000 civilian defense employees, the potential closures of small airports in the state, losses to funding for meals to the elderly, vaccinations for children and more.
The Senate is scheduled to vote on competing, alternate budget-cutting plans on Thursday but nothing is expected to pass Congress before Friday.
“I certainly don’t think the efforts to fix or improve the situation ends on Friday,” Sen. David Vitter, R-La, said.
Vitter said his “Plan A” is to more strategically implement the cuts through congressional proposals that hurt defense spending less and are not made in an “across-the-board” fashion. “Plan B” is for Congress to give President Barack Obama and federal agencies “maximum flexibility” to implement the cuts in smarter ways, albeit with some congressional oversight.
However, Obama and Democrats such as Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, are determined to increase federal revenues while also making significant budget cuts.
Obama is asking for a “balanced” plan that includes significant budget cuts but also increased revenues by eliminating some tax loopholes and exemptions that mostly benefit the wealthy, such as the oft-repeated corporate jet exemption. Republicans are refusing to consider additional revenue increases.
Landrieu and Richmond argued Congress has cut spending by nearly $1.7 trillion the past couple of years, although other spending increases also have occurred.
“But for some reason we have half this (Senate) chamber that only wants to work on one side of the equation,” Landrieu said Wednesday on the Senate floor. “It’s only about cuts, cuts and more cuts, even though they are senseless. They are dangerous, they do not make sense for our country and they most certainly don’t just impact the government, which is the enemy of the other side. They impact our economy.
“They impact our ability to grow this economy,” she continued, “and for every cut that comes down in a senseless way, and even cuts that are planned, they are harmful to the private sector.”
A Pew Center on the States analysis says Louisiana’s federal grants represent roughly 6.6 percent of its state revenues, which is the same as the national average for states.
The sequester came about in 2011 as a compromise that eventually came from the White House as a result of House Republicans threatening to make the federal government default on its bills over the debt ceiling debate. The across-the-board cuts to defense spending and non-defense discretionary spending were created as a poison pill to force compromises that have not come.
Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, said Obama is trying his hardest to ensure the “president’s sequester” goes into effect.
Cassidy, Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, and other critics allege Obama is creating “fear-mongering” and that he wants the cuts to go into effect to get Republicans to cave on tax increases.
“The administration will do their best to make it as painful for the American people as possible,” Cassidy said, noting that the president has known the sequester was coming for more than a year. “He waited until three or four weeks ago to make it an issue.”
Scalise, who heads the conservative Republican Study Committee, said Obama needed to “park Air Force One” a while ago to meet with congressional leaders. Instead, Obama would rather “hurt American families” and try to blame Republicans.
“The president would rather live crisis to crisis every couple of weeks rather than sit with us in a room, work out solutions and begin to lead,” Scalise said.
However, Richmond said House Republicans are the ones who repeatedly refuse to compromise and thereby create the varying crises.
“It’s a sad state of affairs when we can’t come together and find common ground on an act that everyone agrees will hurt the economy and the American people,” Richmond said.