By TEDDYE SNELL
The federal budget bandage Congress and the White House applied in early January to prevent a crisis is set to be ripped off March 1, unless a new deal is not reached in the meantime.
In an earlier Daily Press report, State Rep. Mike Brown, D-Tahlequah, said if a new budget agreement is not approved, states will go into sequestration, which is an automatic federal spending cut to all discretionary programs. Brown said sequestration could affect a number of programs, and result in a reduction of $130 million to $200 million in federal funding to Oklahoma – including deep cuts to the military.
According to the Bipartisan Policy Center, sequestration could mean across-the-board defense cuts of around $492 billion over the next seven years, and an equal amount would be cut from non-defense discretionary programs.
On Feb. 5, President Barack Obama urged Congress to pass a measure that targets short-term spending cuts and higher taxes to avoid sequestration on March 1.
Congressman Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., recently told a local audience sequestration is virtually inescapable, and something he thinks may be necessary.
“Forty percent of our economy is government-driven,” said Mullin. “I’m all for going in and saying ‘boom! get rid of [the spending],’ but the ripple effect is unknown and could take up to 10 years to make us free from federal spending. So, we can either take 10 years to bring the budget back into balance, or we can take 10 years to wean us off the federal government. I’m one of those guys who wants to get it over with. If we take the 10-year approach to balancing the budget, we’ll cut 5 to 10 percent from services every year.”
But Sens. Tom Coburn and Jim Inhofe take a different attitude when it comes to solving the budget issue. Coburn agreed with the president’s suggestion of cutting spending, but is disappointed in the tax proposal.
“President Obama is right that targeted spending cuts are a better way to reduce the deficit than across-the-board cuts,” said Coburn in a written statement. “However, I’m disappointed the president attempted to unilaterally change the terms of the debate on tax reform. Tax reform does not mean closing loopholes solely to pay down the deficit. Tax reforms means closing loopholes to primarily lower interest rates for working families to promote economic growth.”
Inhofe, ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, on Feb. 7 cosponsored a bill to delay sequestration. The legislation would pay for the first year of sequestration by requiring a government-wide reduction in the number of federal employees by 10 percent through attrition. Most notably, it would also freeze pay for members of Congress. These measures, according to Inhofe, would deliver about $85 billion in savings to pay for sequestration for both defense and non-defense accounts in 2013.
“For 14 months, we’ve called on the president to recognize the impact of sequestration and fulfill the campaign promise he made to Americans,” said Inhofe in a press release. “Unfortunately, the president’s sequestration proposal [of Feb. 6] was light on substance. When I saw that his plan included tax increases and kept substantial cuts to defense, I knew this was a non-starter.”
The Daily Press asked Mullin if he would support a pay freeze for members of Congress, should a bill similar to Inhofe’s be introduced in the House. Mullin’s secretary, Tim Ross, said the congressman had no comment on that issue.
According to militarybases.com, Oklahoma is home to six installations, including Altus, Tinker and Vance Air Force Bases, Fort Sill U.S. Army Base, the U.S. Coast Guard Institute and Container Inspection Training. Tinker AFB alone provides 7,500 jobs, and Fort Sill employs 20,000 people - providing both military and civilian jobs.
Local resident John Cook, a member of the National Association of Retired Federal Employees, was the assistant postmaster in Muskogee for 25 years, and has been retired for 39 years. While he understands sequestration could be devastating for a number of federal employees, he believes everyone should share in the responsibility of remedying the budget crisis.
“I think we all ought to take our cuts,” said Cook. “We ought to share in the responsibility of what we’ve gotten ourselves into. I think they ought to cut 10 percent from my annuity, and I think other people feel the same way.”
Cook sees a lot of waste in federal spending programs.
“I don’t know where it all is, now, but there’s enough unneeded [spending] that [if we make cuts] it would help tremendously. I don’t know that we need to spend money to find out if people are allergic to the blue grass in New Guinea,” he said.
Cook pointed out he attended school during the Great Depression, and he understands what it’s like to live through tough economic times.
“We’re all going to have to do it, and it needs to be across the board,” said Cook. “It’s going to hurt a lot of people, and some won’t make it. So many things [Congress] is going to do won’t affect me, but those who come after me, but it’s something to be concerned about. It needs to be done, or we’re going to be in real trouble like Spain or Greece.”
According to source with the Veterans Administration in Muskogee, sequestration will not affect its employees, as hospitals are considered essential services. Other federal jobs could be cut or furloughed, however.