Education secretary: Not "rocket science" to stop "dumb" sequester cuts

(CBS News) It's not "rocket science" for Republican and Democratic lawmakers to find their way to the negotiating table with a plan to replace the "dumb," across-the-board cuts known as the sequester scheduled to activate in five days, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said today on "Face the Nation."

Education services, in particular, will be hit with the sudden axe to the budget March 1. Head Start will be slashed by $406 million, booting 70,000 children from the program; special education will be cut by $840 million; up to 40,000 teachers and other school employees could face layoffs; and drastic cuts to the military will leave families employed under that umbrella inordinately unable to afford special services.

"We don't have any ability with dumb cuts like this to figure out what the right thing to do is," Duncan said, asked whether his budget has any room to make cuts without triggering such painful consequences. "It just means a lot more children will not get the kinds of services they need, and as many as 40,000 teachers could lose their jobs.

"...Any time we have fewer children in Head Start, fewer poor children, fewer children with special needs getting the services they need - none of that's good for children or families, or ultimately for the country," he continued.

Reminded by Major Garrett that the idea for sequestration was hatched by President Obama and his administration as a way to stave off some of the drama of the 2011 debt ceiling battle, Duncan responded that's part of what makes him "so angry."

"I think the sequester was set up to be so painful for everybody, recognizing the dysfunction of Congress to be so painful that it would force people to come to the table," he said. "And the fact that people in Congress are so tone deaf to what's really going on in their districts and what would really happen, that to me is just, it's unimaginable.

"We don't have to be in this situation," Duncan continued. "This is not rocket science. We could solve this tomorrow if folks had the will to compromise, to come to the table, and do the right thing for children."

Appearing on the program after Duncan, though, Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Tim Kaine, D-Va., continued to sound the same core arguments over which their respective parties have been feuding for months.

Emphasizing the president's case for a "balanced approach," Kaine argued that any alternative to the sequester needs to include both spending cuts and increased revenue through tax hikes.

"If we can find a balanced package in the Senate that gets some bipartisan support, we can avoid the sequester cuts," Kaine said.

Ayotte, meanwhile, conceding there's a "more sensible" way to handle spending cuts than blind and extensive sequestration, said: "We wouldn't be in the sequester-type situations if we prioritize spending. In terms of the Democrats' plan, it seems like the first thing they come up with is we're going to raise taxes after having increased revenue. ...I think Republicans should have an alternative in the Senate."

  • Lindsey Boerma On Twitter»

    Lindsey Boerma is senior video producer for CBSNews.com.

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