Obama brings sequester fight to Newport News, Va.

Rachel Rose Hartman
The Ticket

As the country inched closer to the March 1 sequester deadline, President Barack Obama on Tuesday traveled to Newport News, Va., to make a local case for what he and the administration believe will be the devastating economic impacts of the budget cuts.

Obama spoke at Newport News Shipbuilding, which supplies materials to all 50 states and receives Defense Department funding that's being threatened by the across-the-board cuts set to occur in the absence of a budget. He issued specific warnings, noting that tens of thousands of Virginia jobs may be lost; 18,000 fewer Virginians will get the skills and training they need to find jobs; 2,000 Virginia college students will lose financial aid; and early education programs will be eliminated for 1,000 children.

"These cuts are wrong. They’re not smart. They’re not fair. They’re a self-inflicted wound that doesn’t have to happen," Obama told the crowd.

The president called on voters to contact their members of Congress to urge them to compromise and pass a budget to avoid the sequester before the Friday deadline.

"If you agree with me, I need you to make sure your voices are heard," Obama said. "Let your leaders know what you expect of them. Let them know what you believe."

Newport News is a place "where workers will sit idle when they should be repairing ships, and a carrier sits idle when it should be deploying to the Persian Gulf," Obama told governors gathered at the White House on Monday for the National Governors Association's annual meeting.

Tuesday's trip is the latest effort by the White House to argue against sequester. Some Republicans have indicated they would allow it to go into effect should Congress fail to agree on a federal budget that they feel adequately reduces spending and the deficit.

In addition to Obama's speech on Monday to the nation's governors—during which he implored them to urge their congressional delegations to find a budget compromise—the sequester was addressed by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano during Monday's White House briefing. There, she warned that lines for customs and border crossings will significantly increase and trade will slow down due to spending cuts necessitated by the sequester.

The administration has also warned that food safety inspections and wildfire containment will be in jeopardy, cancer screenings will not be as widely available, air travel will be disrupted and federal prosecutors won't be able to try all their cases, among other negative consequences.

But the administration has been questioned by the media, Republicans and others for identifying these specific consequences when agencies will be able to decide within limitations how to cut their spending.

"They have plenty of flexibility in terms of discretion on how they spend money. There are easy ways to cut this money that the American people will never feel," Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma said on "Fox News Sunday."

Obama has placed the onus on House Republicans to compromise and support tax increases for the wealthiest Americans and some corporations as part of a budget deal.

House Republican Speaker John Boehner on Tuesday directed responsibility for budget legislation at the Democrat-controlled Senate, saying during a Capitol Hill press conference, "We should not have to move a third bill before the Senate gets off their ass and begins to do something. It's time for the Senate to act."

The House passed budget legislation in the former Congress, but it has since expired.

Boehner said Tuesday he's prepared to keep the House in session this week to work with the Senate on a sequester alternative.

Chris Moody contributed to this story.