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Automatic budget cuts find few fans among governors, lawmakers, administration officials

By Steve Peoples

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Feb. 24 2013 3:14 p.m. MST

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, left, shakes hands with Walgreens CEO and President Gregory Wasson, right, during a break at the opening session of the National Governors Association 2013 Winter Meeting in Washington, Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013.

Manuel Balce Ceneta, AP

Enlarge photo»

WASHINGTON — The automatic budget cuts set to take hold this week were roundly condemned Sunday as governors, lawmakers and administration officials hoped for a deal to stave off the $85 billion reduction in government services.

Suggestions intended to instill a spirit of compromise included bringing all sides to the bargaining table, where they could act like "adults, a presidential summit at Camp David and even a field trip to watch "Lincoln."

The alternative, as the White House outlined, is a damaging impact on everything from commercial flights to classrooms and meat inspections.

With Friday's deadline nearing, few in the nation's capital were optimistic that a realistic alternative could be found. Instead of dealing with problem at hand, both sides made assigning blame a priority as the clock ticked down.

"Unless the Republicans are willing to compromise and do a balanced approach, I think it will kick in," said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.

No, it's the Democrats who are to blame, the GOP countered.

"The reason there is no agreement is because there's no leadership from the president on actually recognizing what the problem is," said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.

The administration warned of the approaching economic fallout.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said travelers could see delayed flights. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said 70,000 fewer children from low-income families would have access to Head Start programs. Furloughed meat inspectors could leave plants idled.

"It's senseless and it doesn't need to happen," said Gov. Martin O'Malley, D-Md., during the annual meeting of the National Governors Association this weekend.

"And it's a damn shame, because we've actually had the fastest rate of jobs recovery of any state in our region. And this really threatens to hurt a lot of families in our state and kind of flat line our job growth for the next several months."

Some governors said the impasse was just the latest crisis in Washington that is keeping businesses from hiring and undermining the ability of state leaders to develop their own spending plans.

"I've not given up hope, but we're going to be prepared for whatever comes," said Gov. Brian Sandoval, R-Nev. "There will be consequences for our state."

Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy said it is past time for both sides to sit down to help dodge cuts that will hurt all states' budgets.

"Come to the table, everyone. Everybody. Let's work this thing out. Let's be adults," Malloy said.

Obama has not been able to find success for his approach of reducing deficits through a combination of targeted savings and tax increases. House Republicans have said reduced spending needs to be the focus and have rejected the president's demand to include higher taxes as part of a compromise.

LaHood warned travelers could face delays because the Federal Aviation Administration is in line for $600 million in spending cuts.

"We're going to try and cut as much as we possibly can out of contracts and other things that we do," said LaHood, a Republican serving in the Democratic Obama administration. "But in the end, there has to be some kind of furlough of air traffic controllers, and that then will also begin to curtail or eliminate the opportunity for them to guide planes in and out of airports."

Duncan said school districts were already bracing for fewer teachers when school starts in the fall but urged lawmakers to return to negotiations.

"This is not rocket science. We could solve this tomorrow," Duncan said.

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