Several Republicans have questioned the rhetoric coming from the White House its team of high-ranking agency officials who have spent the past week or so warning the public of dire consequences if the automatic spending cuts known as the sequester take effect on Friday.
But one senior GOP senator has been especially persistent. Sen. Tom Coburn (Okla.) appeared on “Fox News Sunday” to criticize the president’s rhetoric, and he’s written to the administration three times in the past five days to offer advice and critiques relating to the sequester.
Coburn sent a letter to the deputy director of the White House budget office on Monday asking the administration to freeze hiring for certain “non-essential positions” in order to shield “more essential jobs being targeted for sequestration savings.”
The senator sent another letter to the budget office last week requesting that the administration cancel a tour to 100 cities in which the White House plans to promote urban revitalization and help pair federal programs with local needs.
Coburn described the scheduled appearances as a “spending tour,” saying: “If Washington is truly cutting spending on missions many consider vital, how can we at the same time promise and promote more financial assistance, much less afford this mammoth 100 city cross-country tour?”
The White House said most federal officials appearing at the events would be from local offices, with very few exceptions in which anyone would travel from the nation’s capital.
As for Coburn’s hiring-freeze proposal, the Oklahoma Republican said his plan would “allow federal agencies to adapt to the current fiscal realities without laying off or furloughing civil servants who are performing truly critical or absolutely necessary functions.”
Coburn highlighted nine examples of positions he thinks the administration could live without in order to prevent layoffs and furloughs for U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents, Defense Department civilian employees and food-safety inspectors.
Among the jobs: an attorney for the Morris K. Udall Scholarship Foundation who would earn an annual salary of up to $155,000; an Air Force history director who would take home as much as $165,000 per year; and an administrative assistant for the Labor Department who would bring in up to $81,000 per year.
Coburn said in the letter that he had eliminated seven full-time positions from his legislative office during the past year. “We have succeeded in maintaining the same quality of constituent services and level of representation with a leaner team,” he said.
The Obama administration contends that halting new hires would not reduce spending enough to avoid the automatic spending cuts.
“It’s important to recognize that a hiring freeze provides only limited savings,” said a White House official who asked that his name not be used because he was not authorized to make a statement on the matter.
Obama has described the automatic spending cuts as an indiscriminate, “meat-cleaver approach” to deficit reduction. But Coburn argued on “Fox News Sunday” that the administration can exercise more control than it has suggested over the impacts.
“They have plenty of flexibility in terms of discretion on how they spend money,” the senator said. “There are easy ways to cut this money that the American people will never feel.”
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who appeared on the show with Coburn, described the reductions as “painful” and “thoughtless.” She urged moderate Republicans to support a proposal that Senate Democrats plan to put forward this week to avert the sequester with a more narrowly focused package of cuts and by closing tax loopholes for millionaires.
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