Governors join White House to fight automatic cuts

WASHINGTON (AP) - Governors from both parties are warning of the damaging impact if the White House and Congress fail to reach a deal to stave off across-the-board spending cuts set to take effect on Friday that could undermine the fragile economic recovery now under way.

The grim picture is emerging as the White House and lawmakers count down the days until the government is forced to trim US$85 billion (S$105.2 billion) in domestic and defence spending with hardly any leeway to save some programmes from the budget knife. This will lead to furloughs for hundreds of thousands of workers at the Transportation Department, Defence Department, and elsewhere.

The so-called sequester now approaching was never supposed to happen. It was designed as an unpalatable fallback, to take effect only in case a specially established bipartisan congressional super-committee failed to come up with US$1 trillion or more in savings from government programmes.

"It's senseless, and it doesn't need to happen," said Maryland's Democratic Governor Martin O'Malley, during the annual meeting of the National Governors Association this weekend. "This really threatens to hurt a lot of families in our state and kind of flatline our job growth for the next several months."

Some governors were pessimistic about the prospects for a compromise. They said the budget impasse was just the latest crisis in Washington that is keeping business from hiring and undermining the ability of governors to develop state spending plans.

"I've not given up hope, but we're going to be prepared for whatever comes," said Nevada's Republican Governor Brian Sandoval. "There will be consequences for our state."

Senator John McCain, Mr Obama's Republican rival in the 2008 election, said Mr Obama should show leadership by inviting lawmakers to the presidential retreat at Camp David or the White House for a budget summit to hammer out a last-minute deal to avert the deep budget cuts set to take effect on March 1.

The Arizona Republican said on CNN's State Of The Union that Mr Obama should be talking with Republican lawmakers instead of demonising them over the looming across-the-board cuts. He called the looming cuts to the Pentagon "unconscionable".

Obama has not been able to find success for his balanced approach of reducing deficits through a combination of targeted savings and tax increases. He has proposed closing tax loopholes that benefit the wealthiest Americans and corporations.

House Republicans have said reduced spending needs to be the focus and have rejected the President's demand to include higher taxes as part of a compromise. They say legislation passed early last month already raised taxes on the wealthiest Americans to generate an estimated US$600 billion for the Treasury over a decade.

In detailing the costs of the cuts, Mr Obama is seeking to raise the public's awareness while also applying pressure on congressional Republicans. But there are few signs of urgency among congressional leaders, who have recently indicated their willingness to let the cuts take effect and stay in place for weeks, if not much longer.