LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called the $85 billion in broad-based federal spending cuts due to take effect on Friday "modest" and downplayed risks that the reductions would damage the nation's economy.
The Kentucky Republican's outlook on the potential ripple effects the cuts might have on a still-fragile economy differed starkly from officials in President Barack Obama's administration, who warned of dire consequences.
"This is a quite modest reduction," McConnell told reporters at Louisville's airport. "We ought to be doing a lot more than this."
The White House recently put out a news release showing that a cross-section of Kentuckians would feel the budget cuts.
McConnell said the formula used to make the cuts wasn't ideal, and he said it was the president's idea.
The senator said the reductions amount to trimming 2.4 percent from trillions in federal spending. He argued that Obama's successful push two months ago for a higher tax rate for top income earners is more likely to hurt the economy than the spending cuts.
"It's hard to argue that it won't have an impact somewhere," McConnell said of the cuts. "But on the economy at large, will the economy be adversely affected by a 2.4 percent reduction in government spending? I think not."
McConnell's hawkish tone on spending cuts comes as the five-term senator prepares for his re-election campaign next year. A group of tea parties in the state have said they are trying to line up a challenger to McConnell in next year's GOP primary. McConnell's tea party critics say the senator has supported excessive federal spending throughout his career.
McConnell, who met with Obama at the White House on Friday along with other congressional leaders, said both sides were resolved to the reality that the automatic cuts would take effect.
The cuts would total $85 billion through the end of the current budget year — Sept. 30 — half each from defense and non-defense programs. Large parts of the budget are off-limits, including programs for veterans, Social Security and Medicare benefits.
"Maybe in the coming weeks we'll have a discussion about doing it in a different way," McConnell said.
Asked how the cuts would affect Kentucky, McConnell replied that families had already curtailed their spending during the economic downturn. "Surely the federal government, out of $3.6 trillion, can find 2.4 percent to reduce," he added.
Meanwhile, the White House recently said the automatic budget cuts would have broad implications in Kentucky. The White House compiled the numbers from federal agencies and its own budget office.
The numbers reflect the impact of the cuts, set to take effect from March to September. It said the examples included:
— Teachers and schools: Kentucky will lose approximately $11.8 million for primary and secondary education and an additional $7.7 million for teachers, aides and staff who help children with disabilities.
— Military readiness: Army base operation funding will be cut by about $122 million, and approximately 11,000 civilian Department of Defense employees will be furloughed, reducing gross pay by around $54.4 million.
— Environment: Kentucky will lose about $2.1 million in funding for preserving water and air quality and preventing pollution from pesticides and hazardous waste. Another $774,000 in grants for fish and wildlife protection will be lost.
— Nutrition assistance for seniors: Kentucky will lose approximately $677,000 for meals for seniors.
— Job search assistance: Kentucky will lose about $478,000 for job search assistance, affecting about 16,690 people.
— Public health: Kentucky will lose approximately $414,000 intended to help upgrade its ability to respond to public health threats. The commonwealth also will lose about $1 million in substance abuse grants and about $92,000 for children's vaccinations.