By Roberta Rampton and Mark Felsenthal
* Speaks to eight TV anchors from across America
* Pentagon describes plans for layoffs
* Obama taken to task for corporate jet comments
WASHINGTON, Feb 20 (Reuters) – President Barack Obama turned to local television stations across the United States on Wednesday to increase public pressure on congressional Republicans to avert $85 billion in budget cuts set to begin in nine days.
Obama scheduled five-minute interviews with television stations in eight media markets, most of which have a strong military presence, on a day when the Pentagon described its plans for laying off some 800,000 civilian employees for 22 days to save money.
In the interviews, reporters referred to forecasts of potential job losses in their states: 12,000 jobs in Maryland and 60,000 jobs in Massachusetts, for example.
“What I say to them is that there’s no reason they should be furloughed, there’s no reason they should lose their jobs or be laid off. This is a problem Congress can solve,” Obama said in an interview with Baltimore CBS affiliate WJZ.
The interviews are part of an administration strategy to lay blame for the job losses on Republicans, who control the House of Representatives and are insisting on deeper spending cuts to reduce the $16 trillion national debt.
Unless Obama and Republicans reach a deal, about $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts will kick in at the beginning of March and continue through Sept. 30 as part of a decade-long $1.2 trillion budget savings plan agreed to by policymakers in 2011.
Not even White House operations will be spared, an administration official said. “We anticipate significant disruption to our operations and mission, which could include furloughs,” said the official.
OBAMA TAKES HEAT ON JETS
Obama has said he wants Congress to end tax loopholes enjoyed mainly by the wealthy to buy lawmakers enough time to pass a budget, such as a tax break for corporate jet owners.
But he was taken to task for the rhetoric on corporate jets in an interview with ABC affiliate KAKE in Wichita, Kansas, home to thousands of aviation manufacturing jobs at plants owned by Learjet-maker Bombardier, Spirit AeroSystems, and privately held Cessna.
“We want to give more tax breaks to all the aviation companies in Kansas, so that they are hiring here and producing here,” Obama said, arguing that the existing tax break for jet owners doesn’t spur sales.
“The reason people buy corporate jets is its extremely convenient and they can afford it. And they don’t need an extra tax break,” he said.
Obama also talked to local TV news anchors in Boston, Oklahoma City, San Francisco, Honolulu, San Antonio and Charleston, South Carolina.
Congress is not in session this week and is not expected to reach a deal by the March 1 deadline. Instead, lawmakers will work on a deal to fund government agencies later in the month.
The battle over “sequestration” – the name for the automatic spending cuts – is the latest in a series of fights between Obama and Republicans over the nation’s deficit.
Obama has also tried to lay the groundwork for a broader economic strategy and argued the government should invest in infrastructure and manufacturing to help address a stubbornly high unemployment rate.