Tahlequah Daily Press

February 15, 2013

Congressional pay freeze a good idea


TAHLEQUAH — Who is to blame for the impending threat of so-called “sequestration” going into effect March 1? It depends on which political party is listed on your voter registration.

Democrats say Republicans are at fault, because some in the GOP seem willing to let it happen, no matter what must be sacrificed. For their part, Republicans say the fault lies with Democrats, whom they say refuse to tackle the deficit with appropriate cuts, and are thus prompting sequestration.

But putting aside all the political posturing and finger-pointing, if sequestration occurs, it’s going to cost jobs – and that can’t be good for the economy.

As State Rep. Mike Brown explained, if a new federal budget deal is not approved, the states will go into sequestration, which prompts automatic federal spending cuts to all discretionary programs. That could mean a reduction of $130 million to $200 million for Oklahoma alone.

No one wants to hear this, but Oklahoma is a so-called “recipient state” – meaning it receives more federal tax dollars than its residents pay into the system. Essentially we’re a welfare state, relying on taxes supplied by folks in places like California and Texas. Much of that “welfare” comes in the form of defense spending, so that’s where we’ll suffer so many job losses or furloughs if sequestration comes to bear. But also on the block are millions of federal health care dollars and potentially hundreds of jobs in that industry, as well as in almost every facet of government operation. It’s likely that someone in your family will be among the unemployed.

According to U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, more than 26,000 jobs could be furloughed or even cut at Altus Air Force Base, Fort Sill, McAlester Army Ammunition Plan, Tinker AFB, Vance AFB, and the Oklahoma National Guard.

For the AFBs, sequestration could mean decreased flying hours and fewer pilots completing training. All bases would have shorter operating hours, reduced equipment availability, reduction in readiness, and the list goes on and on.

District 2’s new congressman, Markwayne Mullin, is on record as saying sequestration is coming, and that we might as well face the cuts now rather than later. His precise statement when he was in Tahlequah was, “BOOM – get rid of the [federal] spending... I’m one of those guys who wants to get it over with.” We assume Mullin understands the elimination of this spending could potentially put thousands upon thousands of Oklahomans on the jobless or welfare rolls – and indeed, he acknowledged the ripple effect.

Many in Congress are decrying President Obama’s lack of a workable plan to head off sequestration, but few of them have an alternative. An exception is Inhofe, who has with a couple of other senators cobbled together what appears to be a good starting point. Inhofe wanted to create $85 billion in savings through a natural attrition in the workforce of 10 percent – meaning once someone retires or quits, that job will go dark – “without ever touching defense cuts or hiking taxes.”

More interesting is Inhofe’s proposal to freeze pay for members of Congress. In truth, the pay and benefits for Congress should be cut deeply, and that’s a move almost everyone – liberal or conservative – would heartily sanction for this largely do-nothing, polarized and quibbling group of overcompensated “public servants.” But predictably, that part of Inhofe’s proposal has met with resistance. When we asked Mullin’s press secretary whether the congressman would support similar legislation in the House, we were told Mullin had no comment.

We don’t need to spell out why sequestration would be especially bad for Oklahoma, but we’ll start with the observation that people who don’t have jobs don’t spend money in stores that sell groceries, clothing, electronics, furniture, or home entertainment items. They don’t buy new cars or build homes or rent RVs, and they put off repairs to their plumbing, their roofs and their kitchen stoves. Lost jobs translates into shuttered businesses, and that culminates in a devastated Oklahoma.

Many elected officials don’t understand or care, but it seems Inhofe does, even if some might not agree with how he arrived at his conclusions. Freezing congressional pay is a great place to start, and if some of those tucked into the Beltway want to squeal about it, we should let them – and then remember their responses when we vote again in a few years.