No quick solution in sight for US spending cut issue

Updated 04 March 2013
0

No quick solution in sight for US spending cut issue

WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama has reached out to Republican and Democratic lawmakers in search of a resolution to automatic across-the-board US government spending cuts, a White House official said yesterday, but Republican congressional leaders offered little hope for a quick solution.
House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, the top Republican in Congress, and Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, both expressed confidence that there would not be a government shutdown at the end of the month amid the showdown with Obama over federal spending.
“I don’t think anyone quite understands how it gets resolved,” Boehner said on the NBC program “Meet the Press” as he put the blame squarely on Obama and his fellow Democrats.
“It’s time for the president and Senate Democrats to get serious about the long-term spending problem that we have,” Boehner said.
Obama late on Friday formally ordered broad cuts in government spending after he and congressional Republicans failed to reach a deal to avert the automatic reductions that could dampen economic growth and curb military readiness.
Government agencies now will begin to cut a total of $ 85 billion from their budgets from now through Sept. 30 under automatic reductions known as “sequestration.” Half of the cuts will fall on the Pentagon.
Gene Sperling, director of the White House National Economic Council, said Obama spoke on Saturday afternoon with a select group of lawmakers to try to find a path out of the current fiscal crisis — a “bipartisan compromise.” He did not identify the lawmakers to whom Obama spoke.
“He’s reaching out to Democrats who understand we have to make serious progress on long-term entitlement reform, and Republicans who realize that if we had that type of entitlement reform, they’d be willing to have tax reform that raises revenues to lower the deficit,” Sperling said on the CNN program “State of the Union.”
Obama did not call McConnell or Boehner, Sperling said, noting that the president had met with them on Friday in a meeting that failed to resolve the issue.
McConnell played down the severity of the automatic cuts, describing them as modest.
“We’re willing to talk to him (Obama) about reconfiguring the same amount of spending reduction over the next six months,” McConnell said on CNN. “The American people look at this and say, ‘Gee, I’ve had to cut my budget more than this,’ — probably on numerous occasions over the last four years because we’ve had such a tepid economy now for four long years.”
Congress and Obama could still halt the cuts in the weeks to come, but neither side has expressed any confidence they will do so. Both Democrats and Republicans set the automatic cuts in motion during feverish deficit-reduction efforts in August 2011.
Democrats predicted the cuts could soon cause air-traffic delays, meat shortages as food safety inspections slow down, losses to thousands of federal contractors and damage to local economies across the country, particularly in the hardest-hit regions around military installations.
At the heart of Washington’s persistent fiscal crises is disagreement over how to slash the budget deficit and gain control of the $ 16 trillion national debt, bloated over the years by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and government stimulus for the ailing economy.
Obama wants to close the fiscal gap with spending cuts and tax hikes. Republicans do not want to concede again on taxes after doing so in negotiations over the “fiscal cliff” at the New Year.


24 dead in Nicaragua after days of clashes between security forces and protesters

Updated 58 min 22 sec ago
0

24 dead in Nicaragua after days of clashes between security forces and protesters

  • Looting grips parts of the troubled Central American country in unrest sparked by pension reforms
  • Security forces deployed by leftist President Daniel Ortega accused of resorting to deadly force

MANAGUA, Nicaragua: Days of clashes between protesters and security forces in Nicaragua have killed at least 24 people, a rights group said Sunday, as looting also gripped parts of the Central American country.
The unrest erupted Wednesday over pension reforms, with students a prominent group.
A robust response ordered by leftist President Daniel Ortega has seen the army deployed to the streets, independent media muzzled, journalists assaulted and pro-government demonstrators mobilized to counter the protests.
The European Union, the United States and the Vatican have expressed concern at the situation and called for calm.
The Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights told AFP that at least 24 people were killed since Wednesday, according to a toll it has compiled.
The center’s director, Vilma Nunez, warned that there was “a lot of misinformation” going around that made obtaining the figure difficult.
On Friday, the government put the number of people killed in two days of protests at 10. No more recent official toll has yet been made available.
On Saturday, a local journalist, Miguel Angel Gahona, was shot dead by a bullet in the city of Bluefields, on Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast. Some local media reports said a police sniper was suspected to be responsible.
Looting was seen at stores in Managua. In some locations, armed store owners stood guard outside their premises to stop mobs from entering.
Parts of the capital were strewn with rubble, remnants of clashes between demonstrators and riot police.
A doctor treating those wounded in the clashes, Eyel Almanza, said in an interview that police officers were resorting to deadly force.
“The wounds suffered by students have been from firearms. Anti-riot police had been using rubber bullets, but not anymore — they are using live rounds,” he said.
Soldiers armed with rifles stood guard at public offices in Managua, as well as in the northern city of Esteli. The army said it was “providing protection to entities and strategic sites.”
Police on Thursday said one 33-year-old officer had been shot dead.
Nicabus, an international bus line with links to Costa Rica and Honduras, said it had suspended services due to the violence.
Protest groups announced a march to the Polytechnic University in the capital, where hundreds of students have been holed up since Thursday.
One male student who declined to give his name said the aim now was to see Ortega step down from office.
“We don’t want him as our president anymore. We don’t want this dictatorship,” he told AFP.
The protests are the biggest in the 11 years Ortega has been in power.
On Saturday, the president was rebuffed when he offered to speak to the private sector’s top business association about the pension reforms, which would see employee contributions increased and benefits reduced in a bid to tamp down on a climbing deficit.
The business association said there could be no dialogue unless Ortega’s government “immediately ceases police repression.”
Throughout the protests, journalists have reportedly faced attacks, been temporarily detained and had their equipment stolen.
Four independent television outlets were taken off air on Thursday. By Sunday, only one remained barred.
Panicked residents in Managua and elsewhere emptied supermarket shelves and bought fuel to see through what could become a prolonged crisis.
“With this stoppage, it’s possible we could be left with nothing to eat,” said Ines Espinoza, a resident in the north of capital who walked out of a store with her two children, carrying bottles of water, biscuits and canned food.
The unexpected wave of violence in an otherwise relatively tightly controlled country has caused international alarm.
The United States denounced the “excessive force used by police and others” in Nicaragua.
A US State Department statement urged Ortega’s government to allow journalists to work freely and to engage in “a broad-based dialogue” to calm the chaos.
The European Union called the violence “unacceptable” and also demanded that news media be permitted to do their work.
“Protests need to be conducted peacefully, and public security forces must act with maximum restraint,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement.
Pope Francis, meanwhile, used his Sunday service in St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican to ask that the “pointless spilling of blood is avoided and the underlying issues be resolved peacefully and with a sense of responsibility.”
Analysts and business leaders said the protests were fueled by dissatisfaction that went well beyond anger over pension reform.
“This has not been seen for years in Nicaragua,” said Carlos Tunnermann, a former Nicaraguan ambassador to the US.
“There is a malaise of the population not only over the reforms, but for the way in which the country has been run,” he added.