WASHINGTON — The White House is pumping out state-by-state breakdowns of the budget cuts set to hit Friday, but many at the state and local levels of government say they are still officially in the dark about exactly how they will be affected.
For example, the White House distributed a Nebraska “Fact Sheet” indicating that the sequester will cost the state $174,000 meant to upgrade its ability to respond to public health threats, $390,000 in grants to treat substance abuse and $51,000 for HIV testing. But the sheet provided no details on the accounts those amounts would be cut from.
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Asked about the White House figures, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services indicated that it must wait for some form of official guidance before taking action.
“We have not received anything official from any of our funding agencies,” said Kathie Osterman, spokeswoman for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.
The White House also pointed to a $15 million cut to Air Force operations funding in Nebraska, but leaders at Offutt Air Force Base weren't sure where that number came from or how their operations would be affected.
“The 55th Wing is still waiting for Air Force and Air Combat Command decisions to be made, and we aren't sure how our local missions will be impacted and to what extent beyond March 1 if sequestration takes effect,” Offutt spokesman Ryan Hansen said. “We are still working from a position of uncertainty in a lot of areas, and putting a specific dollar amount on sequestration at our level is still too difficult to do.”
The sequester was part of the 2011 debt ceiling deal that created a supercommittee of lawmakers to find more carefully crafted cuts. Its failure to reach agreement on a deficit reduction plan triggered automatic budget cuts intended to be so painful that they would force lawmakers to act.
But the two parties are split on what to replace it with. The White House is pushing to include new tax revenues, a move opposed by most Republicans.
Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., said lawmakers still have a few weeks before the current continuing resolution that funds the government expires on March 27, but she urged President Barack Obama to come up with spending cuts to replace the sequester that are more responsibly tailored.
“He knows where to cut within his agencies. He knows where that fat is without doing harm,” Fischer said.
But the White House said even if it is given more flexibility, slashing government spending without raising new revenues will hurt the economic recovery.
“There's no good, there's no efficient way to do cuts of this magnitude,” Jason Furman, principal deputy director of the National Economic Council, said Monday during a conference call with regional reporters.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said the sequester cuts that stand out to him are ones that will affect hospitals in Iowa. But he also suggested that over the long haul the sequester represents a pretty modest reduction in spending and won't be devastating. He also predicted that a deal will eventually be struck.
“People will start coming to the table once sequester happens,” Grassley said, “but then you get to the question, how come they waited 18 months to come to the table?”
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