Obama argued that improving roads, bridges and other critical infrastructure would “save us money in the long term.” And he quoted Wyoming GOP Gov. Matt Mead as saying that failing to maintain roads “is not a plan for being fiscally responsible.”
On education, the president continued his push for early childhood education as a way to ensure better results for students in elementary schools and high schools later on in life.
In addition to Obama’s remarks, the White House communications office kept up its full-court press of warnings about the sequester on Monday when Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano attended the daily press briefing. Like Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood last week, she warned again of huge delays at airports and ports as well as border security and other areas because of the impact of sequester on her agency.
She warned that delays to get through customs at major international airports such as JFK and LAX could be as long as four hours because of furloughs for border and customs employees, and that goods traveling through ports could be held up for five days. Napolitano said those delays would hurt the economy and jobs.
“You really have a perfect storm in terms of the ability to move around the country,” she said. The impacts will phase in “like a rolling ball.”
She denied a charge from Louisiana’s GOP Gov. Bobby Jindal that the president was scaring the country, saying the impacts were real.
“I don’t think we can maintain the same level of security at all places around the country. ... People don’t want to be less safe. They don’t want to be less secure.”
She did say, however, that security procedures at airports and ports would not change, which is why security lines would get much longer.
She said she had no options to avoid the impacts unless Congress acts.
For his part, Press Secretary Jay Carney sidestepped a question about whether the president would support a GOP effort to give the administration the flexibility to make the cuts in a smarter way.
He said that while flexibility might help on the margins, it would be “impossible” to “basically prevent all the bad things from happening but somehow allow cuts to come in places that nobody will notice.”
Still, he stopped short of saying the president wouldn’t sign such a bill.
Carney again made the argument that the GOP so far has been choosing to protect tax breaks for hedge funds, oil companies and corporate jets rather than avert the sequester.
That led to snarky tweets from GOP leadership aides.
“Carney doing that thing again where he forgets they just got higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans. Need to put a sticky note up there,” tweeted Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck. Buck was referring to the New Year’s Day deal to prevent tax hikes on all Americans and delay the sequester for two months.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.