U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-District 4, said Friday he feels that President Barack Obama's administration implemented many of the spending cuts called for by the early March sequester in a way to be the "most painful" to the American people and the most sensational in the news.
"The sequester had $85 billion in cuts, which is a modest reduction in a $3.6 trillion budget," Cotton said prior to addressing the Arkansas Bankers Association at noon in the Embassy Suites Hot Springs -- Hotel & Spa.
As an example of one of the "painful" cuts, Cotton pointed to the closure of 149 air traffic control towers operated by private contractors.
"There's been no compelling explanation for why those towers needed to close, or the criterion by which they chose certain towers," he said.
"In fact, after the sequester spending cuts, the Federal Aviation Administration has $15.3 billion this year to spend. Last year, the president's own budget request only asked for $15.2 billion. They actually have $100 million more than they asked for and they didn't plan to close any towers under that request," he said.
"So it's unclear to me, and a lot of congressmen and senators, why the towers needed to close."
Cotton said that example is repeated in many other government agencies and partners, noting that the most famous is the closure of the White House tours, which cost only about $17,000 a week.
"Yet, the vice president just went to Europe where they paid millions of dollars for hotel rooms, limousines, and the rest," he said.
"I think there is some political gamesmanship in the way the cuts are being administered," he said.
Cotton said he suspects that in many different instances, the administration is choosing to cut the most essential programs "because it will be the most sensational, rather than the least essential programs -- conferences, travel, staff, and so forth."
By Don Thomason
Cotton also would not say whether he will seek to unseat Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., in 2014.
"Right now the only thing I'm doing is running all around my district trying to meet constituents like the bankers here. There will be time for politics later, but for the time being, I'm really focused on trying to do the work I was elected to do in the House," he said.
Cotton said that for the last two months Congress has "really been focused on trying to take some initial steps to address our spending-driven debt crisis."
"We had some automatic spending cuts that kicked in earlier this month, we passed a short-term spending measure that funds the government through the rest of the year that will lock the spending cuts in place while providing some flexibility to manage those cuts," he said.
Cotton said the House also passed a budget, as did the Senate for the first time in four years, that puts "contrasting visions before the American people."
"The House budget didn't increase taxes; the Senate budget increases them by $1.5 trillion. The House budget balances in 10 years, and in just two years gets us back to only a $100 billion deficit; the Senate budget projects a $500 billion to $600 billion deficit as far as the eye can see," he said.
Cotton said Congress will start focusing on the reconciliation process for those budgets during the second week of April, but it will be hard to reconcile the two "because they are far apart."
And, sometime between May and August, Congress will have to address the debt ceiling issue again, he said.