* Across-the-board cuts set to take effect on Friday
* White House, Congress have no negotiations underway
* Officials say world trade, cancer research to be hurt
By Mark Felsenthal and David Morgan
WASHINGTON, Feb 25 The White House escalated a
campaign on Monday to convince Americans dire consequences await
if government spending cuts go ahead on March 1, warning of a
slow down in global trade, a stalled fight against cancer and
Alzheimer's disease and compromised security at U.S. borders.
At the same time, prominent Republicans said President
Barack Obama was overstating the potential damage of the $85
billion in government-wide cuts to frighten the public.
"There is a responsible way to cut less than 3 percent of
the federal budget. It's time for the president to show
leadership," Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal told reporters
after a meeting between the president and governors. "The
president needs to stop campaigning, stop trying to scare the
Jindal's comments followed the president's plea for
Republican and Democratic governors to press Congress to stop
the cuts, telling them he was willing to compromise with
But the president gave no sign that he would try to start
negotiations or take steps to blunt the effect of the cuts. He
bemoaned what he described as a confrontational atmosphere in
Washington, where budget battles have provoked one near crisis
after another since the summer of 2011.
In recent weeks the White House has sought to highlight in
stark terms the disruptions that would begin on Friday if
federal programs are cut.
On Monday, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano
warned the cuts would increase delays at ports of entry into the
United States for container cargo by "up to five days."
Average wait times at customs for travelers will increase
"by as much as 50 percent," she added, with even longer delays
at the busiest airports such as Newark, Los Angeles and New
York's JFK where delays could double to "four hours or more."
"I'm not here to scare people, I'm here to inform,"
Napolitano said at a White House briefing. "Please don't yell at
the customs officer or the (Transportation Security
Administration) officer because the lines are long," she said.
"The lines over the next few weeks are going to start to
lengthen in some dramatic ways in parts of the country."
Also Monday, Francis Collins, director of the National
Institutes of Health, told reporters that the $1.6 billion
cutback would hit the 240-bed NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda,
Maryland, where doctors study rare diseases and conduct clinical
trials to test new drugs for conditions ranging from cancer and
AIDS to depression and genetic disorders.
The NIH also predicted that a lack of funding for hundreds
of new grants could jeopardize as many as 20,000 research jobs
across the United States and slow vital projects to fight cancer
and Alzheimer's disease, develop a universal influenza vaccine
and gain fresh insights into the activities of the human brain.
The administration began ratcheting up its warnings on
Friday when Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood described cuts
at airports that he said would cause domestic air travelers
Over the weekend, the White House distributed state-by-state
projections of lost jobs and cuts in education funding for poor
children. These figures were widely reported on local news
HOW LONG WILL CUTS LAST?
The actual impact of the cuts will depend largely on how
long they last.
Many of the projections are based on the likelihood that
government employees will be furloughed - told to take unpaid
days off - in order to meet the demands of the cuts.
But the furloughs won't occur for at least a month, or
perhaps later, because federal rules require the government to
give its employees 30-days notice.
Congress and the White House also could agree to stop or
ease the cuts before they run their course.
Neither the White House nor members of Congress have offered
reason to hope for a deal before Friday's deadline.
Asked Monday whether he thought the automatic cuts, called
"sequestration" in Washington-speak, would take effect, House
Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, responded: "hope springs
Both sides have concentrated more in recent days on
apportioning responsibility for the spending reductions, to
which both sides agreed in August 2011 with the expectation that
the sequestration would never come to pass.
The White House public relations initiative has increasingly
drawn criticism from Republicans who accuse the president of
exaggerating and traveling around "campaigning" instead of
looking for ways to avoid the cuts.
"We heard the president say last week that he was going to
be forced because of the sequestration to let criminals loose on
the street if he didn't get another tax hike," House Majority
Leader Eric Cantor told reporters Monday.
"Today, we're hearing discussions from the Secretary of
Homeland Security that somehow we're going to have to sacrifice
homeland security efforts and keeping our country safe if we
don't get another tax hike. This is a false choice."
White House press secretary Jay Carney responded Monday that
the administration is just trying to "highlight the impact of
sequester, and by doing so, hope that attention will be brought
to bear on that problem, and the need for Congress to act
responsibly to avoid it."
Obama is scheduled to travel to Cantor's state of Virgina on
Tuesday, to press his case at the Newport News shipyard. The
cuts fall evenly on non-defense and defense spending, with
states like Virginia, heavily dependent on Pentagon contracts,
expected to be hardest hit.