Obama rejects plan for more say in spending cuts

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama brushed off a Republican plan Tuesday to give him flexibility to allocate $85 billion

in looming spending cuts, wanting no part of a deal that would force him to choose between the bad and the terrible.

Three days out and no closer to any

agreement, both parties sought to saddle the other with the blame for

the painful ramification

of the across-the-board cuts set to kick in Friday. Obama accused

Republicans of steadfastly refusing to compromise, while

the top Senate Republican, Mitch McConnell, chided Obama's effort

to "fan the flames of catastrophe."

McConnell and other top Republicans were lining up behind a plan that wouldn't replace the cuts but would give Obama's agency

heads, such as incoming Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, greater discretion in distributing the cuts. The idea is that money

could be transferred from lower-priority accounts to others that fund air traffic control or meat inspection.

But Obama, appearing at a Virginia

shipbuilding site that he said would sit idle should the cuts go

through, rejected the

idea, saying there's no smart way to cut such a large chunk from

the budget over just seven months — the amount of time left

in the fiscal year.

"You don't want to have to choose between,

'let's see, do I close funding for the disabled kid, or the poor kid? Do

I close

this Navy shipyard or some other one?'" Obama said. "You can't

gloss over the pain and the impact it's going to have on the


Giving the Obama administration more

authority could take pressure off of Congress to address the sequester.

But the White

House is also keenly aware that it would give Republicans an

opening to blame Obama, instead of themselves, for every unpopular

cut he makes.

Not all Republicans were on board, either.

"We'll say, 'Mr. President, it is now up to

you to find this $85 billion in savings,' and we'll say it's to make it


for you, but every decision he'll make, we'll criticize,"

acknowledged Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina in a CNN interview


The White House has warned the $85 billion

in cuts could affect everything from commercial flights to classrooms to

meat inspections.

The cuts would slash domestic and defense spending, leading to

forced unpaid days off for hundreds of thousands of workers.

The impact won't be immediate. Federal

workers would be notified next week that they will have to take up to a

day off every

week without pay, but the furloughs won't start for a month due to

notification requirements. That will give negotiators some

breathing room to work on a deal.

Although Obama was to discuss the cuts among

other topics Tuesday in a White House meeting with Graham and GOP Sen.

John McCain,

there were no indications that negotiations between Obama and

congressional leaders were under way. Dampening hopes for a

compromise was a key disagreement about whether new tax revenue,

by way of closing loopholes and deductions, should be included

in any deal, as Obama has insisted.

In the Republican-controlled House, Speaker John Boehner of Ohio said he'd already done his part, complaining that the House

twice passed bills to replace the cuts with more targeted reductions.

"We should not have to move a third bill

before the Senate gets off their ass and begins to do something,"

Boehner told reporters.

Senate Democrats have prepared a measure

that would forestall the automatic cuts through the end of the year,

replacing them

with longer-term cuts to the Pentagon and cash payments to

farmers, and by installing a minimum 30 percent tax rate on income

exceeding $1 million. But that plan is virtually certain to be

toppled by a GOP-led filibuster vote later this week.

Recharging his effort to lay out the stark

consequences for letting the cuts take effect, Obama traveled Tuesday to


Virginia, where he warned that workers at the state's largest

industrial employer, Newport News Shipbuilding, would sit idle.

He stood in front of a massive submarine propeller, with workmen

and the few female employees watching up from the cavernous

assembly floor and said the cuts would mean construction and

repair of Navy ships would be delayed or canceled altogether.

"These cuts are wrong. They're not smart, they're not fair. They're a self-inflicted wound that doesn't have to happen," Obama


The highly staged visit earned him a harsh rebuke from Republicans, including Boehner, who claimed Obama was using U.S. troops

as props in his campaign to scare Americans into raising taxes.

But Obama, grasping eagerly for the chance to portray his positions as having broad appeal, singled out for praise the few

Republicans who say they're open to new revenues as part of a deal. At the top of his list was Virginia Rep. Scott Rigell,

who traveled with the president on Air Force One to call attention to the need to find a way out of the cuts.

"I boarded the plane knowing that some would potentially misinterpret this," said Rigell, who both criticized Obama for not

putting forward a detailed plan and criticized Republicans who say there's no room to raise revenue or that the sequester

should go into effect. "Even if you hold the view that defense spending should come down, this is not the right way to do


Also on Tuesday came word of the first tangible impact of the looming budget cuts on the nation's security at home. To save

costs, the Department of Homeland Security has started releasing illegal immigrants being held in immigration jails across

the country, Immigration and Customs Enforcement said.