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On the road, Obama again warns of coming 'pain' without budget fix

As Republicans decry a White House "road show" and cabinet officials continue to sound the sequester alarm, President Barack Obama said Tuesday that - even if Congress gives him greater flexibility to target coming budget reductions - rapid cuts without new revenues will still inflict "pain" on the national economy.

"The problem is, when you're cutting 85 billion dollars in seven months, which represents over a 10 percent cut in the defense budget … there's no smart way to do that," he said in a speech in the ship-building community of Newport News, Va. 

Obama's address at a shipbuilding plant came hours after House Speaker John Boehner used blunt language to urge Senate action on a budget fix, saying the upper chamber's members should "get off their ass" to avert the sequester.

In Virginia, Obama warned that the current across-the-board cuts will be particularly damaging for jobs along the state's defense-industry-rich coastline. 

President Obama speaks to a group of workers at Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia, highlighting the devastating impact the sequester will have on jobs and middle class families.

"These cuts are wrong, they're not smart, they're not fair," he said. "They're a self-inflicted wound that doesn't have to happen." 

The backdrop of Newport News Shipbuilding offered a visual aide for the president, who lamented how fiscal scuffles on the Hill have caused uncertainty in the private sector. 

The overhaul of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, which is currently docked nearby , has been put on hold due to economic uncertainty surrounding not only the cuts but also the funding of the government which is due to run out at the end of March.

Obama blamed the impasse on Republican unwillingness to compromise on tax reform measures that would raise additional revenue. 

"Too many Republicans in Congress right now refuse to compromise even an inch when it comes to closing tax loopholes and special interest tax breaks," he said. "And that's what holding things up right now."

The president was joined on the trip by the area's Rep. Scott Rigell, a Republican.  

Rigell told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to the event that -- although many in his party say the GOP should accept no more revenue-raising proposals from Democrats --  he has advised his Republican colleagues against resisting measures like closing tax loopholes. 

"I don't think that's a wise position and I don't hold that value," he said. 

The trip to Virginia -- a swing state -- comes amid complaints from the GOP that Obama is "campaigning" on the road rather than addressing the solution to the coming budget slashes.

House Speaker John Boehner addresses the ongoing sequester standoff on Capitol Hill.

"He has traveled over 5000 miles the last two weeks, and we challenge him travel a mile and half and come to Capitol Hill," said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rogers of Washington on Tuesday. "Sit down with Harry Reid and urge the Senate Democrats to take action."

In his comments Tuesday morning, Boehner placed blame squarely on Senate Democrats for failing to propose a fix.   "We have moved a bill in the House twice," Boehner said at a press conference. "We should not have to move a third bill before the Senate gets off their ass and begins to do something." 

Republicans also slammed the White House this week for "scaring" Americans by overstating the consequences of the cuts, which would total $1.2 trillion over 10 years.

That push from administration officials continued Tuesday, with Attorney General Eric Holder warning bluntly that the sequester will make the country "less safe." 

"We’ll do the best that we can to minimize the harm that actually occurs as result of the sequestration, but the reality is there is going to be harm. There is going to be pain," he told a meeting of state attorneys general in Washington D.C. "The American people are going to be less safe." 

Charles Dharapak / AP

President Barack Obama speaks about automatic defense budget cuts during a visit to Newport News Shipbuilding, a division of Huntington Ingalls Industries, Tuesday, Feb. 26, in Newport News, Va.

Newly-minted Secretary of State John Kerry, traveling on his first foreign trip in his new post, told embassy staff in Berlin that he sympathizes with their confusion about Washington's machinations. 

"We face tough budget choices, and I know you sometimes scratch your heads - because I do it at home - and say what the hell are those guys doing or not doing as the case may be, and it's frustrating," he said. "And I get it."

And Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano summed up her own feelings about the budgetary staring contest Tuesday with a literal slap to the forehead. 

"You know, I've been in government and public service a long time-- 20 years actually," she said, after burying her head in her hands. "I have never seen anything like this." 

NBC's Shawna Thomas and Frank Thorp contributed to this report. 

 

 

 

 

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