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Tri-State-area lawmakers answer questions about sequester and its impact

April 14, 2013
  • In this file photo, people are dwarfed by the size of the C-5 on display at 167th Air National Guard in Martinsburg, W.Va.
File photo

The massive federal budget cuts commonly referred to as the sequester will be felt nationwide and will lead to furloughs at places such as Letterkenny Army Depot in Chambersburg, Pa., while the 167th Airlift Wing in Martinsburg, W.Va., is facing layoffs, furloughs and pay cuts.

The sequester went into effect March 1.

The Herald-Mail recently asked Tri-State-area lawmakers to answer five questions about the sequester and its impact. The questions and responses will appear in editions Sunday and Monday.

Those who replied include U.S. Sens. Benjamin Cardin and Barbara Mikulski, and U.S. Rep. John Delaney, all Democrats representing Maryland; U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey and U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, both Republicans representing Pennsylvania; and U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin and Jay Rockefeller, both Democrats representing West Virginia. 

Office staff for U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and U.S. Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr., D-Pa., did not provide answers to the questions, despite multiple phone calls, emails and an extended deadline.

Capito did provide a statement. In part, it said, “Congresswoman Capito is very concerned about how the sequester is being implemented, which is why she voted twice to replace it. Unfortunately, President Obama refused to negotiate with Congress and is now adamant about making the cuts as political as possible.”

— Compiled by Jennifer Fitch


Q: What are you doing to mitigate the effects of the sequester on your constituents?

U.S. Sen. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md.: I did not want the sequestration to take effect, and I fought to ensure there was some relief in the continuing resolution that funded government operations for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2013. I was disappointed that Congress did not replace the across-the-board sequester cuts with smarter, more targeted cuts, but I was glad that some flexibility was given to the Departments of Defense, Agriculture, Commerce, and others to shift resources that might lessen the need for furloughs.

For example, money was specifically added to prevent food safety inspectors from being furloughed, which was welcome news not only to the inspectors and their families, but Maryland’s poultry industry and others whose livelihoods would have been threatened if inspectors were not available.

The defense department has announced that furloughs will still be needed, but the maximum time will be cut by about one-third, thanks to new funding flexibility. Important tuition benefits for our military were reinstated.

Funding also was increased for NOAA, NIST, NASA and other agencies with a robust presence in our state, many of which are still reviewing the impact of the continuing resolution on their specific budgets.

I also fought hard to ensure that the Senate-passed budget for Fiscal Year 2014 sets priorities and creates the proper framework for a responsible, balanced budget without the mindless cuts we endured for Fiscal Year 2013.

U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.: I’ve done three things to work to solve sequester. I introduced a balanced bill to stop sequester, which was blocked in the Senate. I led passage of a bipartisan continuing resolution to prevent a government shutdown, protecting national security while meeting compelling human needs. I fought to include more flexibility for federal agencies to respond to urgent needs like giving the FAA flexibility to move cuts around to reduce damage. Unfortunately, Republicans said no. Last month, the Senate also passed a budget which cancels sequester and saves jobs. Now it’s time for the House to act.

U.S. Rep. John Delaney, D-Md: Where it is possible, our office is working with local officials and constituents to urge agencies to find alternatives. The continuing budget resolution passed earlier this month mitigated some of the worst aspects of sequestration, giving a number of agencies more discretion, but unfortunately, much of sequestration is now going to go into effect.

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa.: Our civilian workers and military personnel at Letterkenny Army Depot do a fantastic job. As someone who voted against the Budget Control Act in 2011 and its arbitrary spending reductions for our military, I believe that the federal government can make more sensible cuts in spending to reduce the deficit.

In fact, I co-authored legislation that would have given the administration the ability to make smarter spending reductions that focus more on waste, duplicate programs, and lower priority expenditures — rather than going after military readiness. Unfortunately, President Obama threatened to veto this common-sense proposal and it was defeated by my Senate colleagues across the aisle. All but two Democrats voted against my idea.

I learned that the Pentagon operations and maintenance account was underfunded by billions of dollars, and as a result of that, Letterkenny and Tobyhanna Army Depot planned to furlough federal civil service employees and lay off hundreds of workers. In response, I authored a proposal that would have transferred funds to operations and maintenance to help mitigate this job loss. To ensure that my proposal was deficit neutral, I would have offset this funding transfer by diverting moneys from an inefficient Pentagon biofuels programs. In spite of bipartisan support, my amendment did not receive enough votes in the Senate to pass.

U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa.: I have voted twice in the House to replace President Obama’s sequester with common-sense reforms to control mandatory spending. Unfortunately, the Democrat-controlled Senate has refused to act on our legislation.

Earlier this month, I also voted for a continuing resolution bill to fund the government for the remainder of the year. The continuing resolution gives the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs the ability to manage their funds better in light of sequestration. This will give them the flexibility to spend money and move money in the best way possible to areas that make sense.

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.: In the hours leading up to the Jan. 1 “fiscal cliff,” I introduced the “Cliff Alleviation at the Last Minute” or CALM Act. The bill would have given the Office of Management and Budget the flexibility to prioritize which programs would be cut, rather than apply across-the-board automatic cuts. It would have also encouraged Congress and the president to reach the “big fix” that economists have deemed necessary to put the nation’s fiscal house back in order.

Unfortunately, the bill did not pass, and instead of dealing with sequestration in a responsible way, Congress delayed the cuts for two months. In the days before the new March 1 deadline, I introduced another proposal to make the sequester cuts more flexible and less draconian, but this proposal was not brought to the floor for a vote either.

However, my staff and I have been in contact with West Virginia officials, public administrators, safety officials, business managers, and state and local leaders to discuss how the cuts have affected their areas. I will do everything I can to help alleviate any unnecessary harm that has stemmed from these reckless, automatic spending cuts, including writing letters to administration officials and supporting bills in Congress.

U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.: I have voted to stop the sequester and am continuing to look for ways to lessen its impact. From federal jobs and transportation infrastructure to programs that help low- and middle-income families, I am deeply concerned about the real-life impact of the sequester’s sloppy across-the-board cuts.


Q: What do you think people need to know and understand about the federal budget cuts?

Cardin: The federal budget and sequestration is not just about numbers; it is about people and local communities nationwide. I have met with federal employees from across our state, and there is great alarm — not just because of a loss of wages, but because Americans depend on what our federal workers do.

Sequestration was supposed to be such an extreme measure that it would motivate Democrats and Republicans to come together and find a reasonable path out of our fiscal mess. I worked hard with my colleagues to try to find a smarter way, but such compromise was blocked at every turn by those whose sole agenda has been to take a hatchet to the federal government and the very hardworking men and women who carry out its essential functions.

Mikulski: Sequester is a nine-letter word which would be a big hit in a scrabble game, but it’s a lousy word for the game of life and the functioning of our economy. The sequester was never supposed to happen. It’s bad policy and it’s bad economics. We’re being pound-foolish to save nickels and dimes.

Delaney: This isn’t the right way to reduce the deficit. In many cases, we’re making large 8 percent to 10 percent cuts to vital programs, while we’re not touching the largest drivers of our deficit. We need a grand bargain budget deal that raises revenues, reforms entitlements and makes smart spending cuts.

Toomey: The federal government has doubled its spending in the last 12 years. The sequester budget cuts are about a 2 1/2 percent reduction in spending from that 100 percent growth. This is not some sort of severe austerity plan.

Clearly, the cuts could be done more wisely. There are innumerable opportunities for savings in the federal budget, including unneeded projects, duplicative missions, waste and fraud. We spend $8 billion a year for federal employees to go to conferences and trips. We spend money for a Cowboy Poetry Festival and a million dollars for taste-testing foods to be served on Mars. We have 80 different economic development programs spread across the federal government. We have 94 different programs to encourage the construction of green buildings. We have 47 different job training programs.

I believe that this administration can and should find smarter spending cuts instead of harming those who protect our country. I will keep working toward this important goal.

Shuster: A balanced budget is the only way for us to avoid a debt crisis, giving businesses the certainty they need so they can plan, invest and grow. That is why I voted for the House budget, which balances our federal budget in 10 years. By tackling the debt, the House budget will help grow our economy today and ensure the next generation inherits a stronger, more prosperous America. If we keep kicking the can down the road and follow the president’s plan, we will bury our children and grandchildren under a mountain of debt that they will never be able to dig out from.

Manchin: Our federal budget is approximately $3.6 trillion. Our annual deficit in 2012 exceeded $1 trillion, and the national debt is $16.7 trillion and counting. These are dangerously large and unsustainable figures. Congress cannot afford to continuously kick the can down the road rather than solve our nation’s serious financial challenges.

Reducing our growing debt, managing our deficit and passing a responsible budget are goals we can no longer ignore while the American people suffer the consequences. Inaction is not an option. We need to get our fiscal house in order, so we can move toward economic stability and American job growth.

Rockefeller: The full effects of the sequester won’t be felt right away, but the collective impact over time will hurt our economy. The bill I voted for would have replaced the sequester cuts with a responsible, balanced approach to reducing our deficit through targeted spending reductions that close corporate tax loopholes and end wasteful subsidies.


Q: What would you say to a Letterkenny Army Depot, 167th Airlift Wing or other federal employee facing furloughs or layoffs?

Cardin: I would tell them “What you do matters!” I want all federal workers in Maryland and elsewhere to know that they really are appreciated. I am grateful for their service and sacrifices for our country every day. The work they do makes a difference in people’s lives. I have fought to mitigate the impacts of sequestration and will continue to seek whatever avenues are possible to lessen the burden that has been involuntarily placed on hardworking public servants.

Mikulski: I want to say to federal employees, thank you for your work. For too long, deficit reduction has come on the backs of federal employees through sequester furloughs, pay freezes, diet COLAs and arbitrary cuts. I’m fighting to cancel sequester and will continue to stand up for our federal employees who are on the frontlines every day, working to protect the health and safety of the American people.

Delaney: I’d thank them for their service to our country and be honest with them that their elected officials let them down. We’re in this situation because extremists in both parties have refused to compromise. Along with other members of the Maryland delegation, I wrote to Speaker Boehner asking for a sequestration replacement to be brought to a vote in this Congress. It never came.

Toomey: Like many in Pennsylvania, I was very disturbed to learn about the planned layoff of highly skilled civilian employees at Letterkenny. I know there is a lot of uncertainty about job security and possibly pay cuts as a result of furlough days.

My staff and I have visited Letterkenny and met with its employees more than any other military installation in Pennsylvania. I’ve sought input from local community-based organizations. These workers perform vital maintenance on military equipment and play a significant role in our national security efforts.

I have been arguing repeatedly that cuts to the budget can be made in a smarter way. In light of all of the waste, duplication and lower priority spending in the federal government, I am confident that we can make more sensible cuts in spending than severely reducing the Army’s operations and maintenance work. The area I offered as a potential savings is the defense department biofuels program, which requires the taxpayer to grossly overpay for fuel. Given tightening budgets, it makes little sense to waste money on inefficient, overpriced energy sources when we could use those same funds to help support critical maintenance services for the warfighter.

Shuster: This is President Obama’s sequester; he proposed it, and unfortunately he has not shown a willingness to find permanent solutions to our nation’s spending problems. The House has voted twice to replace the president’s sequester with common-sense reforms to mandatory spending.

It is time for Washington to get spending under control, and arbitrary cuts are not the way to fund our military and national security. My office is in touch with Letterkenny and the command every day, and we will continue to work with everyone involved to make sure their concerns are heard.

Manchin: I urge West Virginians to keep me informed on anyone facing furloughs or layoffs as a result of these cuts, so I can work with the local officials and managers to see if there is anything we can do to help these hardworking employees. Job sustainability and job growth, along with boosting our economy and getting our fiscal house in order, are among some of my top priorities as a United States senator.

Rockefeller: I’m fighting to restore needed funding and I share your grave concerns, just as I do with all West Virginians who may be impacted by the sequester. I am hopeful Congress can come together around a smarter approach to deficit reduction, and I will continue pushing for Senate action.

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