WASHINGTON, D.C. — Local officials are keeping a wary eye toward Friday, the day that crippling, across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration are set to take effect.
During a retreat Friday, members of the Surry County Board of Commissioners noted that without knowing whether the cuts will take effect it is hard to plan for next year’s budget.
But one county officials said that if the cuts do take effect it could ultimately help the American public realize that Washington is broken.
“I hope for the country’s sake and this county’s sake that this sequestration in Washington goes into effect on March 1,” said Board Chair Eddie Harris, who voiced his frustration with the antics in the nation’s capitol. “We can’t continue this Ponzi scheme that’s been going on in Washington.”
If they take effect, the cuts are the result of the failure of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, known colloquially as the Simpson-Bowles Committee, to reach an agreement on reducing the federal deficit by up to $1.5 trillion.
The act that established Simpson-Bowles, the Budget Control Act of 2011, included a provision to sequester the funds, generating automatic across-the-board cuts that were set to take effect on Jan. 2, 2013, should Congress fail to reach an agreement prior to that date. No agreement was reached, but Congress did vote to “punt” the cuts for a couple of months, setting the new deadline to March 1.
Should the automatic cuts go into effect they will be divided between defense spending ($500 billion), and non-defense spending ($70 billion).
But at least one member of Congress is holding out hope for an agreement that would pull the country back from the precipice.
In a Tuesday morning conference call, U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan said she is “truly troubled” by the sense of inevitability in Congress that no agreement can be reached.
“Partisan bickering has resulted in this,” she said, noting that North Carolina has the third-largest military footprint in the country. “Reducing debt is a priority, but I don’t believe that putting the burden on our military is the way to go about it.”
Hagan said the cuts would have far-reaching negative consequences for the nation. She said that unless Congress acts prior to Friday, more than 20,000 civilian employees at the state’s military bases face furlough and more than $121 million in collective pay cuts. She said sequestration also includes about $25 million in cuts to education in North Carolina.
“That will harm economies across the state,” she said. “If we cut that $120 million out of local economies, it will hurt small businesses.”
Furlough notices already are being sent out alerting 22,000 civilian workers for the Department of Defense that their jobs are in jeopardy.
“Small businesses are already being told their contracts with the Department of Defense aren’t going to be up for renewal,” Hagan said. “There’s a lot of uncertainty about how this is going to be carried out.”
But she said the cuts will hurt the middle class the most, including reduced funding for education in North Carolina.
“I don’t think the middle class should continue to shoulder the burden,” Hagan said. “We need to reduce spending in a balanced way, but we can’t cut education.”
But she said she hasn’t given up hope for an agreement prior to Friday.
“It’s my hope that we’ll be able to avert these terrible cuts, and I’m looking at a lot of alternatives and reviewing each plan being put forward,” she said. “If we’re going to get our fiscal house in order and avert sequestration, we’re going to have to make some difficult decisions and balanced cuts.”
The Congresswoman said she is more interested in a solution than playing partisan politics.
“I’m not interested in pointing fingers or placing blame,” she said. “We have a little period of time, and we need to have Democrats and Republicans agreeing to work out the details.”
Reach Keith Strange at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1929.