Obama goes on local TV in fight with Republicans over budget cuts

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - President Barack Obama turned to local television stations across the United States on Wednesday to increase public pressure on congressional Republicans to avert US$85 billion (S$105 billion) in budget cuts set to begin in nine days.

Mr Obama scheduled interviews with television stations in eight markets, most of which have a strong military presence, on a day when the Pentagon was set to describe its plans for laying off some 800,000 civilian employees for 22 days to save money.

The interviews are part of an administration strategy to lay blame for the job losses on Republicans, who control the House of Representatives.

Unless Mr Obama and Republicans reach a deal, about US$85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts will kick in at the beginning of March and continue through Sept 30 as part of a decade-long US$1.2 trillion budget savings plan agreed in 2011.

Mr Obama has said he wants Congress to end tax loopholes enjoyed mainly by the wealthy to buy lawmakers enough time to pass a budget but Republicans are insisting on deeper spending cuts to reduce the US$16 trillion national debt.

Mr Obama will talk to local anchors in Boston, Baltimore, Oklahoma City, San Francisco, Honolulu, San Antonio, Charleston, South Carolina, and Wichita, Kansas, in interviews set to air during the evening news.

"The president will have an opportunity to focus on the harmful local impacts that will be felt if congressional Republicans refuse to compromise," a White House official said.

Congress is not in session this week and is not expected to reach a deal by the March 1 deadline. Instead, lawmakers will work on a deal to fund government agencies later in the month.

The "sequestration" battle is the latest in a series of fights between Mr Obama and Republicans over the nation's deficit.

Mr Obama also has tried to lay the groundwork for a broader economic strategy and argued the government should invest in infrastructure and manufacturing to help address a stubbornly high unemployment rate.

On Wednesday, he will provide more details about a US$50 billion spending plan he discussed in his State of the Union address last week that the White House is calling "Fix It First". Most of that money would go to roads, bridges and airports that have postponed maintenance projects, the White House said.

But any new spending will face an uphill battle in Congress.

Mr Obama also will talk about a plan to cut the time it takes to review and provide permits for projects like roads, bridges, railways, ports and pipelines, the White House said.