Governors agree: Avoid the sequester

(CBS News) Sequestration is no way to go about gutting the federal budget, a bipartisan group of governors agreed today on "Face the Nation." But whether the effects of the blind, across-the-board cuts scheduled to trigger March 1 will hurt their states' constituents as drastically and immediately as the White House is warning, they said, remains to be seen.

"I think the effects will be significant, and people will feel them," Gov. John Hickenlooper, D-Colo., predicted. The cuts, if Congress fails to replace them this week, will dramatically slash defense programs, force furloughs for government employees across agencies, slow airport procedures and reduce the number of security agents on the border, among a host of other things. Hickenlooper noted in particular the "impossible choices" weighing on the Department of Education, which would see billions in cuts to Head Start and school budget items like teacher salaries.

But the doomsday scenario being painted by President Obama might not be all that, Gov. Jan Brewer, R-Ariz., argued. She cited the continuing resolution (CR) of 2013, which, as a stopgap, has only set funding for the government until March 27 instead of through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. In the four-week window in which Congress must extend the CR or risk shutting down the government, there may be a chance to roll into it a package to replace the sequester.

If lawmakers "don't get their act together," Americans "are going to see some cuts," Brewer said, but qualified, "I don't know if they're going to be all that dramatic in the period of time."

Gov. Bob McDonnell, R-Va., echoed that sentiment, and charged the president with "overplaying his hand" by sounding the alarm on the sequester - the idea for which was hatched by his administration during the 2011 debt ceiling battle - in an attempt to "force people to raise taxes." Mr. Obama is calling for an alternate plan that shores up the deficit through spending cuts as well as increased revenue through tax hikes.

Brewer said while Republicans "don't like tax increases," they "know we have to be pragmatic. We know there has to be some kind of compromise, but dang it, they need to get the job done."

Whether to raise taxes again is "up to Congress," McDonnell said, adding that while cuts are a must, so much of the burden shouldn't be shouldered by states and the military.

"The sequester was put in place to be a hammer, not a policy," McDonnell said. "And now here we are just a week away from getting it done. Our major concern that [Democratic Maryland Gov. Martin] O'Malley and I have, because we're such defense states -19 installations, 25,000 defense contractors in Virginia - is you have to cut because we're in bad shape; $17 trillion almost in debt now. But don't put 50 percent of the cuts on defense. ...That's not the right way to balance the cuts that are necessary. Find another way to do it and get it done now."

O'Malley, meanwhile, congratulated McDonnell on achieving a "balanced approach" out of a "tough" Virginia legislative session, and said "whatever our differences might be, we understand that this is an economic threat." The two governors from the states surrounding Washington, O'Malley continued, believe both parties in Congress need to compromise to avoid sequestration.

"These are job-killing cuts and we have to find a way to avoid these," he said. "We cannot cut our way to prosperity. We need a balanced approach."

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