Sequester Brinksmanship Ratchets Up as DOD Notifies Congress of Furlough Plans

Sequester Brinksmanship Ratchets Up as DOD Notifies Congress of Furlough Plans

With the days ticking down to March 1, the Obama Administration is ratcheting up its rhetoric and actions to convey the implications of letting the across-the-board budget cuts known as a sequester go into effect.  The sequester would require $85 billion in government spending cuts in the current fiscal year, which ends on September 30.

Yesterday, President Obama made remarks at the White House warning of the consequences.  The litany of agencies and programs that would suffer under sequestration — including Border Control agents, emergency responders, air traffic controllers and so forth — has become all too familiar as congressional Republicans and congressional Democrats and the White House continue to battle against the Faustian bargain they made in August 2011.   Each side blames the other, but Congress passed and the President signed into law the Budget Control Act that created the sequester; they all agreed to it.

The sequester was the poison pill, an outcome so dire — the theory went — that Republicans and Democrats would be forced to find an alternative way to reduce the deficit.   They have not.   Instead, they postponed the deadline for when it would take effect from January 2 to March 1, and now the new deadline is fast approaching with no sign of either side relenting.  Republicans want to reduce the deficit only through spending cuts.  The Democrats want a combination of spending cuts and tax increases.

The stakes rose higher today as the Department of Defense (DOD) formally notified Congress that it would have to furlough all of its 800,000 civilian employees if the sequester takes effect.   Pentagon officials previously had warned that each civil servant could be furloughed for as many as 22 days through the end of the fiscal year, a roughly 20 percent decrease in their income.  President Obama exempted military personnel from the cuts.  Presidential appointees also are not affected, but Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter has said that he will give back that percentage of his salary in solidarity with his workforce.

The cutbacks in government spending would cascade through the contractor workforce causing more layoffs or terminations. 

Virginia’s Republican Governor, Bob McDonnell, sent a letter to President Obama and the Virginia congressional delegation yesterday urging them “to repeal this blunt and unnecessary instrument and embark on the shaping of a responsible legislative alternative to meet our nation’s fiscal crises.”  Northern Virginia is the location of many Pentagon offices and non-defense government agencies, as well as contractors.   Other parts of the state have significant defense installations, such as Naval Station Norfolk that is the Navy’s logistics hub for U.S. European Command, U.S. Central Command, and certain areas under U.S. Southern Command.  One of the members of Virginia’s congressional delegation is House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, second-in-command to House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH).  

Boehner published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal yesterday blaming the budget crisis on the President and insisting that House Republicans already have twice passed legislation to reduce the deficit through additional cuts to non-defense spending instead of the sequester.  Democrats reject those cuts, however.

Viriginia would hardly be the only state affected.  Poliltico reports this morning that a number of Senators are trying to protect defense installations in their states.  Politico quotes Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) as saying his fellow Senators’ attempts to protect their states is “like BRAC on steroids,” a reference to the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process that led to the closing of many military installations around the country.

Some pundits are referring to the current situation as a game of political chicken with each side hoping voters will blame the other when the effects of the cuts are felt.

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