US governors fear havoc from budget cuts
WASHINGTON: Governors of both parties in the United States said the automatic across-the-board cuts in federal spending that are scheduled to begin at the end of the week were creating havoc, threatening jobs and sapping economic growth in their states.
The governors, arriving in Washington for the winter meeting of the National Governors Association, said that they knew federal budget cuts were coming, and they pleaded with President Barack Obama and Congress to give them more discretion over the use of federal money so they could minimise the pain for their citizens.
They urged the president and Congress to strike a deal that would allow state officials to set priorities and prune spending in a more selective way.
"We are just saying — as you identify the federal cuts and savings — give us flexibility to make the cuts where they will do the least harm to our citizens," said Governor Mary Fallin of Oklahoma. "Don't balance the federal budget on the backs of state governments."
Governor Jack Markell of Delaware, said: "Deficit reduction should not be accomplished simply by shifting costs from the federal government to the states or by imposing unfunded mandates. States should be given increased flexibility to create efficiencies and to achieve results."
With more discretion, Mr Markell said, governors could moderate the effects of the looming cuts.
"We know that cuts are coming, but we don't want to suffer disproportionately," Mr Markell said. "We want to have some input. We want a seat at the table."
If the stalemate between Obama and Congress continues, the across-the-board cuts will begin to take effect Friday, under a budget procedure known as sequestration.
Already the battle lines over the cutswere evident Saturday in President Barack Obama's weekly address and the Republican response, delivered by Senator John Hoeven of North Dakota.
The idea for sequestration did come from the Obama White House, as news accounts made clear at the time — Jacob J. Lew, then Mr Obama's budget director and now his nominee for Treasury secretary, proposed it.
Mr Lew, who had been a senior adviser to the House speaker in the 1980s, lifted language from a 1985 law he had helped negotiate, called the Gramm-Rudman law. That statute was conceived by two Republican senators to be "a sword of Damocles," as they said at the time, one that hung over the two parties, poised to strike unless they compromised on deficit reduction.
That summer of 2011, the two sides had already agreed to nearly $US1 trillion in reductions over a decade in "discretionary" spending programs, which cover just about everything the government does except the entitlement benefit programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
Governor Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii said Saturday the automatic cuts could force layoffs of 19,000 workers at the Pacific Command and Pearl Harbor.
"That will undermine our capacity for readiness at Pearl Harbor," Mr Abercrombie said, and it symbolises what happens when Congress fails to meet its responsibilities.
The New York Times