Obama looks for new allies in 'sequester' fight: Republican governors

The president is hoping that governors – who will have to grapple with the impact of the sequester in their states – will lean on members of Congress to avert the spending cuts.

Charles Dharapak/AP
President Obama addresses the National Governors Association Monday at the White House. Mr. Obama encouraged the governors to tell their congressional counterparts how painful the sequester spending cuts will be in their particular states.

President Obama is trying to get some new allies in his effort to pressure Congress to avert the "sequester": the nation's governors – in particular, Republicans.

Speaking Monday morning to the National Association of Governors, assembled in Washington for their annual conference, Mr. Obama urged the governors to lobby their congressional counterparts directly and tell them just how painful the across-the-board spending cuts will be in their particular states.

To help them make their case, the White House also provided the governors with some specific data points showing just what the impact of the cuts will be, in a series of fact sheets detailing exactly how the cuts will affect each state individually. For example, according to the White House analysis, Arkansas stands to lose $5.9 million in funding for primary and secondary education. In Maryland, 46,000 Defense employees would be furloughed. In Florida, more than 7,000 children won't get vaccines. 

Obama then drove the point home: "While you are in town, I hope you will speak with your congressional delegation and remind them in no uncertain terms exactly what is at stake and exactly who is at risk. Because here's the thing: These cuts do not have to happen. Congress can turn them off anytime with just a little bit of compromise."

It's another attempt by the president to pressure congressional Republicans from the outside, rather than engage in direct negotiations with them. Republicans have been criticizing the White House for this tactic, even though direct negotiations haven't proved particularly fruitful in the past. 

And there's reason to believe that at least some Republican governors – who will be forced to grapple directly with the impact of the cuts, and in some cases, perhaps, make up the difference from their own cash-starved budgets – may indeed prove compelling lobbyists. As Politico reported Sunday: "[Republican] governors have publicly signed on to letters bashing Obama and praising House Republicans' efforts, but privately their offices have been urging lawmakers to work harder to avoid potentially devastating cuts – particularly those that could hit local programs."

On CBS's "Face the Nation" Sunday, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) – a conservative Republican at the helm of a state where some 90,000 Defense workers stand to be furloughed – was asked what his "message" to fellow Republicans in the Senate and the House would be. He replied they needed to "find another way to do it, and get it done now."

Notably, when asked specifically if he would accept new tax increases as part of a compromise to avoid the cuts – in other words, the White House's preferred solution – Governor McDonnell didn't say no. "The solution is up to Congress," he said. "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."

Similarly, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) – who has publicly clashed with the president in the past – also wouldn't rule out tax increases as part of an eventual solution to avoid the sequester. Speaking on "Face the Nation," Governor Brewer noted that her state would be hit particularly hard by the cuts to border patrol agents. "We don't like increases in taxes," she said. "But … we know we have to be pragmatic. We know that there has to be some type of compromise."

That's exactly the argument Obama is hoping these governors will make to members of Congress directly.

Of course, not all GOP governors are taking an avoid-it-at-all-costs line when it comes to the sequester. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, on "Fox News Sunday," said that while he hopes Congress will come up with some "better alternatives" to the across-the-board cuts, he'd be just as worried about the impact of tax increases. "I think all of us as governors have a real concern about the impact [of the cuts] but also, in terms of what some of the alternatives might be," he said, noting that the hike in the payroll tax passed as a part of the deal to avert the "fiscal cliff" is already taking money "out of the economy" in his state.

On the other hand, Governor Walker has also admitted that his state wouldn't be hit as hard as many others – recently telling the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "If I was the governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, I'd probably be freaked out" by the sequester.

The next few days will make clear if such a gubernatorial "freakout" takes place – and if it's sufficient to move Congress. 

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