WASHINGTON — The White House continued Sunday to wage a public relations battle over federal spending cuts set to be triggered Friday, warning that Oklahoma could lose millions of dollars in grants, teachers could lose their jobs and low-income and disabled students could lose access to classes.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, said the crisis over the cuts had been “made up” and that there were “hundreds of billions of dollars of fat and waste and excess in the federal government.”
President Barack Obama has been pressing lawmakers to wipe out $1.2 trillion in planned spending cuts and replace them with a package of tax hikes and more targeted cuts.
The across-the-board cuts will be spread out over 10 years and primarily hit the Defense Department and domestic programs ranging from education to air traffic control.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta notified about 800,000 civilian employees last week, including about 24,000 in Oklahoma, that they might have to be furloughed.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said air traffic, particularly at the nation's busiest airports, would be delayed if the cuts force furloughs of his workers.
Republicans are strongly opposed to raising taxes, and lawmakers from both parties have said in recent days that they expect the cuts, known as the sequester, to go into effect Saturday.
Appearing on Fox News Sunday, Coburn said the cuts would be triggered but would be less than the $85 billion over seven months — March through September — cited by the administration.
Coburn said the crisis was “created.” Cutting spending would be painful, he said, “but not cutting spending is going to be disastrous for our country.”
“The American people, you know, we see all these claims about what a tragedy it's going to be,” Coburn said.
“The great example is, is if the secretary of transportation can assure us all the planes are going to be safe, then the Department of Homeland Security can assure us that we can get through the airports on time. They have plenty of flexibility in terms of discretion on how they spend money.
“There are easy ways to cut this money that the American people will never feel.”
Asked whether the administration was using scare tactics in talking about furloughs and airport delays, White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer told reporters Sunday, “This is going to have a very real impact on people's lives and on communities, and people need to know why that is. Like I said, are all these things going to go into effect on the first day? No.
“But there are hundreds of thousands of Americans who are working today who will lose their jobs as a consequence of this Republican decision.”