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White House: States will feel impact from imminent budget cuts

Continuing their full-court press offensive just days before $85 billion in automatic cuts to federal spending kicks in, senior administration officials are highlighting the impact of the cuts on individual states.

The officials' dire warnings come on the heels of more Republican criticism of President Obama and his administration's handling of the so-called sequester; the officials took the opportunity to again slam Republicans for refusing to compromise by including new revenue in a sequester replacement.

"It's important to understand," White House political director Dan Pfeiffer said, that the sequester is "going into effect because Republicans are choosing for it to go into effect."

"Republicans are making a policy choice that these cuts are better for the economy than eliminating loopholes that benefit the wealthy," he explained. "Hopefully they'll change their mind in the next seven days."

House Speaker John Boehner's spokesman Michael Steel responded in an email saying, "Republicans in the House have voted - twice - to replace President Obama's sequester with smarter spending cuts. The White House needs to spend less time explaining to the press how bad the sequester will be and more time actually working to stop it."

If the sequester does land as scheduled, warned Jason Furman, principal deputy director of the National Economic Council, the result will be "macroeconomic consequences" costing hundreds of thousands of jobs across the country, as well as "serious programmatic consequences for all 50 states."

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The administration released a report detailing the effect of the cuts on each individual state this afternoon. Citing a few examples, Furman explained that 350 teachers and teacher aide jobs in Ohio alone would be at risk. He also mentioned the maintenance of 11 Navy ships in Virginia that would be cancelled, along with the 4,180 children in Georgia who will not get vaccines.

Pfeiffer warned of the "hundreds of thousands of Americans who are working today who will lose their jobs as a consequence of this Republican decision."

Fortunately, he added, "There's a much better course economically."

"We're not asking for a my way or the highway approach," he said, calling on Republicans to simply embrace "a proposal Speaker Boehner championed two months ago."

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That proposal, a balanced mix of targeted cuts and tax loophole eliminations, compared to simply allowing the sequester proceed, would produce "more deficit reduction," enact "more meaningful long term entitlement reform" and help create a "more competitive and efficient tax code," Pfeiffer said.

"That's not something that can be done in the next five days," he admitted, which is why the White House has pushed a short-term agreement to "buy more time."

"The Senate has a bill on the floor next week that does that," he added. "Our hope is Republicans don't abuse legislative tactics like the filibuster to block that solution."

Pfeiffer was asked why he believes Republicans would acquiesce to higher revenues in this latest fiscal brawl, especially given their reluctance to do so during the fight that produced the sequester in the first place. He explained, "The American people sent a very strong message in the last election that they believed strongly in deficit reduction."

And he also said that voting for new revenue was a line the GOP had already crossed during the "fiscal cliff" fight that allowed taxes to hike on individual incomes in excess of $400,000 at the start of 2013.

At that time, "Republicans broke their 20-year opposition to revenues being part of any deficit reduction," Pfeiffer noted. "The days of [anti-tax advocate] Grover Norquist's stranglehold on the Republican party should be over," but "Republicans seem to want to hearken back to those days right now.

"They are so focused on not giving the president another win," he said, "that they are undermining their own long-term policy goals."

Pfeiffer also disputed the charge that Democrats had overestimated the power of defense cuts as a cudgel to force Republicans to play ball on revenues.

"No, I don't believe" the White House made a miscalculation on the importance of the defense budget to the GOP, he said, noting that many Republicans have also declared the defense cuts unacceptable.

"Few people have more credibility in the Republican party on these issues than Sen. McCain," Pfeiffer said, referring to the Arizona Republican seen as a leading GOP voice on defense issues. "And he has been very vocal about what a terrible idea this is."

McCain has indeed been vocal, but perhaps not in the way that the White House would like. On CNN's "State of the Union", he blasted the president for abdicating his responsibility to lead.

"I won't put all the blame on the president of the United States," he said, "but the president leads. The president should be calling us over...and us sitting down and trying to avert these cuts."

"I think that what we are doing now to the men and women who are serving [in the military] is unconscionable," McCain added, labeling the across-the-board spending cuts "the worst and most cowardly way to approach this situation."

On top of that, McCain said, the sequester "came from the White House" in the first place, pointing to reporting from the Washington Post's Bob Woodward, who has described how several of the president's aides concocted the idea during 2011 budget negotiations.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., agreed that the sequester is "terrible" and stupid" on "Fox News Sunday", but argued that the administration is "absolutely" exaggerating the consequences of the spending cuts. "There are easy ways to cut this money that the American people will never feel," he said. "Not cutting spending will be disastrous for this country."

Less than a week from the latest fiscal crunch, lawmakers and the administration are all over the map in explaining who created this mess and how we should clean it up.

But despite the high drama, at least one person remains hopeful that a solution will emerge in time. "The president's an eternal optimist," Pfeiffer explained. "He's hopeful Republicans will listen to the overwhelming opinion of the American people."