* Republicans want Obama to be flexible in how cuts are made
* White House has said law forces cuts to be made across-the-board
* Republican Senator Ayotte says working on spending-cuts proposal
* Obama to address governors on Sunday night
By Roberta Rampton
WASHINGTON, Feb 24 (Reuters) - With five days left before $85 billion is slashed from U.S. government budgets, governors and lawmakers from both parties said the White House and Congress should pull out the stops to avert indiscriminate cuts.
Republicans, who are seeking spending cuts, urged President Barack Obama to apply what’s known as the “sequester” in a more careful way, rather than slashing budgets across the board.
Congress returns on Monday after a week-long recess and unless lawmakers reach a deal with the White House to postpone the cuts, they will take effect on March 1.
Senator Kelly Ayotte, a Republican from New Hampshire, said she is working on a bill that would cut spending, an alternative to a plan that Senate Democrats have put forward that focuses on raising revenues by ending tax loopholes.
“I think this notion of giving the President the discretion to make the spending cuts - I think that’s a cop-out. So I will be urging my colleagues to have an alternative and for us to present one,” Ayotte said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
The White House has issued dire warnings about the impact of the cuts will have, including mass temporary layoffs or “furloughs” in the military, a slow-down in air traffic, and shutdowns for daycare programs and meat-processing plants.
“They’ve rolled out this great political theater about how cutting less than 3 percent of the federal budget is going to cause all these awful consequences,” said Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, a Republican, on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“Here’s his chance to say, ‘Here’s how we can do it better,’” Jindal said, suggesting Congress and the White House give departments the ability to cut spending on less essential services.
Governors are having dinner at the White House on Sunday night, part of an annual meeting in Washington. Obama is slated to speak to the group at 7:10 p.m. EST (0010 GMT on Monday).
On average, government programs subject to the cuts provide 6.6 percent of states’ revenues, according to Pew Center on the States.
An analysis by Wells Fargo Securities Economics Group last week found that under sequestration states close to the nation’s capital and in the South “will be the hardest hit, while states in the Midwest and the West Coast will likely be impacted to a lesser extent.”
White House officials have said the sequester law, signed in 2011 and designed to coerce Congress and the White House to agree on ways to cut spending and reduce the U.S. deficit, does not allow the administration to be flexible in how the cuts are applied.
“We don’t have any ability with dumb cuts like this to figure out what the right thing to do is,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said on “Face the Nation.”
“There are literally teachers now who are given pink slips, who are given notices that they can’t come back this fall,” Duncan said.
With a deal proving elusive, Obama has sought to buy more time by urging Congress to end some tax breaks in the short term in order to boost revenues.
There has been little negotiation between the White House and Congress on the cuts, although Obama phoned Republican leaders last week to discuss the issue.
“The president should be calling us over somewhere, Camp David, the White House, somewhere, and sitting down and trying to avert these cuts,” said Republican Senator John McCain on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Democratic Congressman Eliot Engel agreed that Congress should seek “smart” cuts, rather than across-the-board reductions.
“I think Congress should sit down and avoid the sequester,” Engel said on ABC’s “This Week.”
“And if the sequester kicks in, for a week or so, we should then fix it so it doesn’t become a permanent thing,” Engel said.