Obama: Lawmakers must make 'right decisions' on cuts

The president's words follow a drumbeat of warnings from Cabinet members about the harsh impact of the looming budget cuts.

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama, intensifying pressure on congressional Republicans, said Friday that lawmakers still have "the opportunity to make the right decisions" and avert a series of mandatory budget cuts by March 1.

Despite little sign of a deal emerging with Republicans, Obama said he does not believe it is inevitable that the $85 billion in across-the-board budget cuts will take effect. He said finding a way to avert the cuts should be a "no-brainer" for congressional lawmakers.

Speaking in the Oval Office during a meeting with visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Obama said that in contrast to earlier Washington fiscal fights, he didn't believe the economic impact of the cuts would threaten the world financial market. But he added that if the U.S. economy slows as a result of the cuts, the global economy could suffer as well.

In detailing the costs of the cuts, President Barack Obama is seeking to raise the public's awareness while also applying pressure on congressional Republicans who oppose his blend of targeted savings and tax increases to tackle federal deficits.

"I've been very clear that these kinds of arbitrary, automatic cuts would have an adverse impact on families, on teachers, on parents who are reliant on Head Start programs, on our military readiness, on mental health services, on medical research," Obama said Friday. "This is not a smart way for us to reduce the deficit."

Obama's statements continued an administration drumroll of warnings this week, with appeals from Cabinet members ranging from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Secretary of State John Kerry to Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

Even a slew of Democratic governors in the capital for their annual meeting picked up the cudgel, making arguments for Obama's position to reporters.

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The fight between Obama and congressional Republicans has centered on a seemingly intractable issue: Obama says he wants a more methodical and restrained plan for budget-cutting and one that would necessitate an additional tax increase. GOP lawmakers and their leaders, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, for the most part have come together to oppose any new revenue measures.

Panetta last week said that the automatic cuts, known in Washington jargon as a sequester, would harm the readiness of U.S. fighting forces. And Kerry, less than a week into his new job, argued at the University of Virginia that the sequester could jeopardize America's standing in the world.

Duncan told reporters Thursday he was increasingly worried that deep spending cuts would harm students and teachers across the country, saying that "no one in their right mind would say this is good for kids or good for the country."

He also said that no one would have designed the automatic budget cuts on purpose.

LaHood, a Republican who served several terms in the House, joined White House press secretary Jay Carney in the briefing room to make an appeal Friday to the reporters gathered there.

LaHood said the across-the-board reductions would require trimming $600 million this year form the Federal Aviation budget and said that would mean furloughing air traffic controllers, which he said in turn would undermine the ability to guide planes in and out of airports. He also said travelers could experience 90 minute delays or more in major cities.

Asked whether it appeared inevitable that the cuts would materialize, Carney said: "We obviously are discouraged by the line that Republican leaders have taken, which is the book is closed on revenue. ... We remain hopeful and we will continue to engage with Congress."

LaHood, in response to a question, denied that he was simply describing a worst-case scenario that would scare the public and put pressure on Republican lawmakers.

"What I'm trying to do," he said, "is wake up members of the Congress with the idea that they need to come to the table so we don't have to have this kind of calamity in air services in America."

The Democratic governors, after meeting with Obama, said state economies would be hurt by the cuts.

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, said states have seen increased employment, but that their prosperity is being hindered by "the games being played by the Republicans in Congress."

And a National Park Service memo obtained by The Associated Press contains a list of potentially adverse effects of the cuts at the nation's most beautiful and historic attractions, including possibly Yosemite National Park, the Cape Cod National Seashore and Gettysburg.

"We're planning for this to happen and hoping that it doesn't," said Park Service spokesman Jeffrey Olson, who confirmed that the list is authentic and represents cuts the department is considering.

Park Service Director Jon Jarvis last month asked superintendents to show by Feb. 11 how they would absorb the 5 percent funding cuts. The memo includes some of those decisions.

While not all 398 parks had submitted plans by the time the memo was written, a pattern of deep slashes that could harm resources and provide fewer protections for visitors has emerged.

In Yosemite National Park in California, for example, park administrators fear that less frequent trash pickup would potentially attract bears into campgrounds.

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AP Photo: Charles Dharapak