Congressional Republicans aren't taking, apparently, any action to prevent the sequester cuts from taking effect Friday, but the party’s governors, after the White House spelled out exactly how bad those cuts would be for states, may find themselves at odds with the party's congressional leadership – at least behind closed doors.
President Barack Obama has moved the sequestration fight to the state level, warning governors of the impacts of the $85 billion budget cuts to defense and non-defense spending. He has called on governors to apply pressure to their members of Congress to avoid the automatic across-the-board spending cuts.
Obama favors a plan that includes both spending cuts and new tax revenues from closing loopholes that benefit big businesses and the wealthy. But the GOP has argued that Democrats already got a tax increase last month when Congress brokered a deal on the so-called fiscal cliff.
But Obama’s lobbying for allies among governors seems to be working.
Some Republican governors may not be plainly saying they are for raising taxes, but they have indicated no opposition. State executives who don’t want to see huge chunks of federal funding removed from their coffers are already publicly speaking up, saying they don’t want to have to clean up the federal government’s mess.
“We don't like increases in taxes,” said Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer on Sunday’s “Face the Nation” on CBS. “We know we have to be pragmatic. We know that there has to be some type of compromise. But dang it, they need to get the job done. They don’t need to leave the public out there hanging.”
The White House issued its report detailing the effects of the sequester on the states earlier this week, and of particular concern for Brewer could be that customs and border patrol staffing levels could fall. That would mean less manpower working on keeping illegal immigrants out, in a state where immigration is a hot issue.
In Virginia and Maryland, where the cuts to the Pentagon budget would affect a vast defense-related business, the governors have decided to use a bipartisan approach to urge Congress to avert the cuts.
“This sequester stands to wipe out a lot of hard-fought job gains in Virginia and in Maryland,” Governor Martin O’Malley, D-Md., said. “So for whatever our differences might be, we understand that this is an economic threat. … So both of us hope that the Congress will come together and find a way to avoid the sequester.”
O’Malley said Congress needs a balanced approach that allows for job creation and expand opportunity.
Gov. Bob McDonnell, R-Va., warned Republicans in the House and Senate that they have had 18 months to act and that cuts on defense aren’t the way to go. He suggested taking on Medicare and Medicaid and seriously looking at the bipartisan proposals by Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson.
“And so I would say that’s where they’ve got to go first, and we've had 18 months, and a president’s got to lead; Congress has got to work with him and get it done,” McDonnell said.
When asked about taxes, he added, “The solution is up to Congress. I’m just saying don’t put all the burden on the states and the military. You guys figure out how to get it done.”
Though it looks like neither of the two parties is about to head toward a compromise before March 1, some say that privately there might be a shifting of positions.
Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affair at Princeton University, said the GOP governors could be trying to persuade their party colleagues in Congress, but have to keep it confidential: "They might not say things in public such as 'taxes to raise revenue',” he said. “They will say it in private. Publicly they have to protect themselves.”
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