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Obama presses GOP to halt automatic spending cuts

WASHINGTON — Staking out his ground ahead of a fiscal deadline, President Barack Obama lashed out against Republicans, saying they are unwilling to raise taxes to reduce deficits and warning that the jobs of essential government workers, from teachers to emergency responders, are on the line.

Obama spoke as a March 1 deadline for automatic across-the-board spending cuts approached and with Republicans and Democrats in an apparent stalemate over how to avoid them.

Obama cautioned that if the $85 billion in immediate cuts — known as the sequester — occur, the full range of government would feel the effects. Among those he listed: furloughed FBI agents, reductions in spending for communities to pay police and fire personnel and teachers, and decreased ability to respond to threats around the world.

In the meantime, local government officials are waiting to see how the cuts will affect them, especially those who have received Staffing for Adequate Emergency Response Grants from FEMA.

These grants have provided personnel for the fire departments of Fairborn - three firefighters for two years, Middletown - a $900,000 grant for six firefighters/paramedics for two years - and Hamilton.

Hamilton Fire Chief Steven Dawson said his department’s $1.1 million SAFER grant has provided seven firefighters and expires in May. Dawson said his department was planning on reapplying for the grant in the spring as a way to stall a possible layoff process.

Besides emergency responders, the cuts could impact approximately 70,000 children in Head Start, which is a federally funded program that promotes school readiness for children who are between the ages of birth and 5-years-old and from low income families, according to Kenneth Wolfe, deputy director of Public Affairs for the Administration for Children and Families.

“Our services would be affected because Head Start would be affected,” said David Estrop, superintendent of Springfield City Schools.

Estrop urged politicians in Washington to work together in the spirit of collaboration and cooperation. “Let’s sit down and work this out,” he said. “Taking us to the brink again as a nation is not what this is should be about.”

Title I schools — where at least 40 percent of the children in the school attendance area are from low-income families or at least 40 percent of the student enrollment are from low-income families are eligible to receive federal Title I funds — could also see a decrease in funding, according to Charlie Graham, executive director of state and federal grants management for Dayton Public Schools.

“This year, the district has received approximately $23.9 million in formula and competitive federal grants. Should the district receive a comparable amount for fiscal year 2014, an 8.5 percent reduction would result in an estimated loss of more than $1.9 million,” Graham said. “If the two-month delay is considered it could result in a six percent reduction, which would be approximately $1.2 million. This amount could be reduced should some of the grants not be included in the sequestration.”

It is unclear how sequestration will affect specific grants that deal with education. “Any cuts to poverty-based educational programs has long term implications for children’s learning and future adult earning power,” Graham said.

Obama said the consequences would be felt across the economy.

“People will lose their jobs,” he said. “The unemployment rate might tick up again.”

“So far at least, the ideas that the Republicans have proposed ask nothing of the wealthiest Americans or the biggest corporations,” Obama said. “So the burden is all on the first responders, or seniors or middle class families.”

House Republicans have proposed an alternative to the immediate cuts, targeting some spending and extending some of the reductions over a longer period of time. They also have said they are willing to undertake changes in the tax code and eliminate loopholes and tax subsidies. But they have said they would overhaul the tax system to reduce rates, not to raise revenue. Obama did win an increase at the start of the year when Congress increased the upper tax rate for the wealthiest Americans.

“The American people understand that the revenue debate is now closed,” House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement Tuesday following Obama’s remarks. “Tax reform is a once-in-a generation opportunity to boost job creation in America. It should not be squandered to enable more Washington spending. Spending is the problem, spending must be the focus.”

Congress is not in session this week, meaning no votes will occur before next week and complicating the ability to negotiate any short-term resolution.

Obama said the anticipated cuts were already having an effect, noting that the Navy had already delayed the deployment of a carrier to the Persian Gulf.

“Changes like this — not well thought through, not phased in properly — changes like this effect our ability to respond to threats in unstable parts of the world,” he said.

Obama wants to offset the immediate spending cuts, known as a sequestration in budget language, through a combination of targeted spending cuts and increased tax revenue. The White House is backing a proposal unveiled last week by Senate Democrats that is in line with the president’s principles.

But that plan has met an icy reception among Republicans, who oppose raising taxes to offset the cuts. GOP leaders say the president got the tax increases he wanted at the beginning of the year when Congress agreed to raise taxes on family income above $450,000 a year.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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