President Barack Obama will Tuesday paint a devastating picture of looming government budget cuts, at a fabled shipbuilding yard in Virginia that provides the US Navy’s nuclear powered aircraft carriers.
The trip will intensify the president’s effort to hike pressure on Republicans to agree on tax increases to avert $85 billion in automatic spending cuts this year, which experts warn could stagger the fragile economy.
The White House said the cuts, known as “the sequester” which are due to hit on March 1, would see 90,000 civilian defense workers furloughed in Virginia alone and would hurt companies in 50 states that supply shipbuilders.
An official said that the cuts would also delay the maintenance of 11 ships in Norfolk, Virginia, as the administration argues that the sequester would badly impact US defense readiness.
Obama will argue “that the only reason these cuts will take place is if congressional Republicans choose to protect loopholes only enjoyed by the wealthiest and big corporations at the expense of jobs in Virginia,” the official said.
Newport News Shipbuilding, which Obama will visit, is building the new generation of Gerald R. Ford class nuclear powered aircraft carriers, and also supplies nuclear submarines to the US navy.
On Monday, the White House warned of a “perfect storm” of airport delays and less secure US borders when the cuts happen, but top Republicans accused Obama of using “scare” tactics.
Officials also laid out a daunting state-by-state list of possible sequester impacts, foreseeing teacher layoffs, funding crunches for emergency workers, air traffic delays and overtime bans for public sector employees.
The idea for the automatic, arbitrary budget cuts emerged as a way to ease a previous spending showdown between Obama and Republicans in Congress.
The massive reductions to the military and domestic budget were supposed to be so severe that both sides would be forced into a deal to cut the deficit. But Washington is so dysfunctional that no agreement has been reached.
The president wants congressional Republicans to help stave off the cuts by closing tax loopholes he believes benefits the rich and corporations, and to carry out a program of targeted spending cuts.
Many Republicans agree that the sequester is a bad way to trim the budget and reduce the deficit, but they argue that Obama is not serious about reining in spending so does not deserve more revenue.
There seems little prospect that Washington’s feuding politicians will agree to halt the sequester before it comes into force.
The first point of possible compromise may then come with a bill due at the end of March to fund the government’s operations.
Republican Senator John McCain predicted on Monday that there would be more incentive for lawmakers to fix the problem once the cuts hit.
“I think the forcing mechanism, if there’s going to be one, it’ll be the job losses and the warnings and the military,” he said.
“What we’re doing to the men and women in the military is just disgraceful. They don’t know what their future is. They don’t know where they’re going to be next week.”