LaHood’s surprise appearance in the White House briefing room aimed to put a spotlight on the real-world consequences of the political standoff over the across-the-board spending cuts, known as the sequester that will take effect next Friday.
Even as LaHood painted a dire picture, a Pew Research Center/USA Today poll released Thursday shows that most Americans have heard little to nothing about the potential cuts. Only 27 percent said they had heard “a lot” about them.
The White House has sought to change that this week with a public relations campaign that included President Obama’s appearance Tuesday with emergency medical workers and an announcement by the Pentagon that it would furlough up to 800,000 civilian employees one day a week.
But it was the specter of widespread travel delays — up to 90 minutes during peak flight periods — that the White House hoped would rally public opinion and put pressure on Republican lawmakers.
“Your phones are going to start ringing off the hook when these people are delayed at airports,” said LaHood, a former GOP congressman from Illinois. “Nobody likes a delay. Nobody likes waiting in line.”
The sequester was put into motion by the August 2011 debt-ceiling deal, and there have been few signs of progress in negotiations to avert them. Obama has proposed a mix of budget cuts and new revenue through closing corporate loopholes, but Republicans have said they will not raise taxes and instead have pushed to cut federal health spending.
During a photo op in the Oval Office after a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the president said Friday that the impact of the budget cuts would slow growth in an already soft economy.
“It also means that we are not going to be driving down unemployment as quickly as we should,” Obama said. He added that his fellow world leaders understand that drastic budget cuts are the “wrong prescription” for the U.S. economy.
“I don’t need to persuade world leaders of that,” Obama said. “I’ve got to persuade member of Congress, and that can be harder sometimes.”
House Republicans continued to blame Obama for the sequester, which the White House proposed in 2011 and Congress approved.
Several Republicans who serve as leaders on transportation policy released a statement Friday accusing the administration of exaggerating the impact of the scheduled cuts on air travel.
“We are disappointed by the Administration creating alarm about sequestration’s impact on aviation,” said the statement from Sen. John Thune (S.D.) and Reps. Bill Shuster (Pa.) and Frank A. LoBiondo (N.J.). “Before jumping to the conclusion that furloughs must be implemented, the Administration and the agency need to sharpen their pencils and consider all the options. Prematurely outlining the potential impacts before identifying other savings is not helpful.”