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Governors: Looming cuts threaten economic gains

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Governors are becoming prominent voices in the fight to cut the federal deficit, warning that Capitol Hill's latest budget stalemate is causing fresh uncertainty that threatens economic progress.

State leaders attending the annual meeting of the National Governors Association joined ranks Friday to condemn the massive automatic spending cuts that are set to begin March 1.

The Obama administration said failure to avert the cuts could lead to widespread flight delays, shuttered airports, off-limit seashores and the furloughing of hundreds of thousands employees.

"It is not helpful when Congress and the president and the administration have such partisan gridlock," said Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, a Republican and former member of Congress. "Because their gridlock has real repercussions on the families ... it has real repercussions on our states and our economies."

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, said the nation "cannot afford to put at risk jobs and the recovery."

"The only thing that's standing in the way of prosperity right now is the games being played by the Republicans in Congress," he said following a meeting between Democratic governors and President Barack Obama.

At their weekend meetings, governors planned to focus on jobs and the economy, gun control and the new health care law.

Some Republican governors have blocked the use of Medicaid to expand health insurance coverage for millions of the uninsured. Others have joined Democrats in a wholesale expansion as the law allows.

But no issue carries the same level of urgency as the budget impasse.

Congressional leaders have indicated a willingness to let the cuts take effect and stay in place for weeks, if not much longer.

The cuts would trim $85 billion in domestic and defense spending, leading to furloughs for hundreds of thousands of workers at the Transportation Department, Defense Department and elsewhere.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said the cuts would harm the readiness of U.S. fighting forces.

Obama has stepped up efforts to tell the public about the negative impact, and tried to pressure Republicans who oppose his approach of targeted savings and tax increases to tackle deficits.

Republicans responded sharply to the president's fresh demand to include higher taxes as part of a compromise.

"Spending is the problem, spending must be the focus," said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.

Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said "there won't be any easy off-ramps on this one. The days of 11th hour negotiations are over."

But governors aren't yet resigned to the worst-case scenario.

"I think there should be limited government, but I don't like random changes. If you look at my budget, I didn't do across the board cuts," said Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican. "I think you should be more strategic."

The looming cuts were never supposed to happen. They were intended to be a fallback in case a special deficit reduction committee failed to come up with $1 trillion or more in savings from benefit programs.

While Washington Republicans blame the White House for creating the plan, they joined Democrats in voting it into law.

There was little Obama-bashing from Republican governors on Friday. But there was plenty of frustration.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.