President Obama’s apocalyptic predictions of the harm that would come to the country if the latest round of budget cuts kick in late next week are starting to wear thin among an unlikely group: the White House press corps.
Mr. Obama has spent the past week issuing a series of dire warnings about the economic and personal consequences of allowing the so-called sequester spending cuts to occur March 1.
But reporters appear increasingly skeptical about the motivation behind the Mr. Obama’s messaging and are questioning whether the White House is directing the Pentagon and other agencies to showcase potential cuts to boost both public anxiety and pressure on congressional Republicans to compromise.
The skepticism reached a crescendo Friday when outgoing Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood visited the White House to announce that the Transportation Department was planning on furloughing air-traffic controllers around the country, a move that would result in disruptive delays in air travel. Mr. LaHood said travelers should expect delays of up to 90 minutes at U.S. airports.
But Mr. LaHood faced sharp questioning over whether there weren’t other, less disruptive cuts to be made.
“You’ve got a big budget. Can’t you find some other way to cut that without telling air traffic controllers to stay home?” ABC News’ Jonathan Karl asked Mr. LaHood.
Mr. LaHood insisted agency officials were scouring “every contract” to find the right places to cut, even as he highlighted just how difficult it will be for Republican lawmakers to deal with angry travelers.
Lawmakers phones are going to “start ringing off the hook,” he predicted. “Republicans need to step up here. … This is not rocket science.”
In recent days, Mr. Obama has held his own public event spotlighting what he was were painful cuts to emergency first-responders and the Pentagon warned of 800,000 civilian layoffs because of the sequester. The president will head to a shipbuilding yard in Newport News, Virginia on Tuesday to highlight more potential job losses and their impact on the local economy of the defense-heavy region.
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