Obama warns spending cuts could idle shipbuilder

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is arguing that looming government-wide spending cuts could idle military resources like naval aircraft carriers, while Republicans are criticizing the president for taking his arguments outside Washington instead of staying to work out a plan before Friday's deadline.

The president planned to appear Tuesday at Virginia's largest industrial employer, Newport News Shipbuilding, which would be affected by cuts to naval spending. Obama warned Monday that if the so-called sequester goes into effect later this week, the company's "workers will sit idle when they should be repairing ships, and a carrier sits idle when it should be deploying to the Persian Gulf."

Obama urged Congress to compromise to avoid the cuts, but there has been no indication the White House and congressional Republicans are actively negotiating a deal. The last known conversation between Obama and GOP leaders was last week, and there have been no in-person meetings between the parties this year.

Obama wants to replace the sequester with a package of targeted cuts and tax increases, while Republican leaders insist the savings should come from reduced spending alone.

Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, chair of the House Republican Conference, criticized Obama for traveling to southern Virginia rather than up the street to Capitol Hill to come up with a solution.

"We need the president to stop campaigning for higher taxes, come back here to Washington, D.C., and lead," McMorris Rodgers said during a news conference Monday with GOP leaders.

"We're very concerned about the impact of the sequester. This was President Obama's idea," she said Tuesday in an appearance on "CBS This Morning."

"The Republicans, almost 300 days ago, put forward our plan," she said. "There's a smarter, better way to do it," Rodgers said.

The sequester was designed as an unpalatable fallback, meant to take effect only if a congressional super-committee failed to come up with at least $1 trillion in savings from benefit programs.

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 furloughs for hundreds of thousands of workers.

In Virginia alone, the White House says, about 90,000 civilians working for the Defense Department would be furloughed for a cut of nearly $650 million in gross pay. The White House also says the sequester would cancel maintenance of 11 ships in Norfolk, as well as delaying other projects around the area.

The Navy has already delayed a long-planned overhaul of the USS Abraham Lincoln at Newport News Shipbuilding as a result of the budget uncertainty, and other plans call for delaying the construction of other ships.

Obama planned to travel Tuesday with two Virginia congressmen, Democrat Bobby Scott and Republican Scott Rigell.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., offered a potential way out of the stalemate Monday by indicating he was open to raising tax revenue if Obama offered to overhaul big-ticket entitlement programs. Many Republicans say they are done raising revenue after letting taxes on top earners increase in December.

"I'll raise revenue. Will you reform entitlements?" Graham said in a challenge to the president on CNN. "And both together, we'll set aside sequestration in a way that won't disrupt the economy and hurt the Defense Department."

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Associated Press writers Jim Kuhnhenn in Washington and Brock Vergakis in Norfolk, Va., contributed to this report.

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