The Pentagon is set to warn Congress on Wednesday of impending civilian furloughs as the White House and Republican lawmakers continue to blame each other for the automatic spending cuts set to take effect on March 1.
If legislators cannot reach a compromise to avoid or delay the sequester, many of the 800,000 civilian workers would be furloughed for up to 22 days, resulting in a 20 percent pay cut, according to an internal Pentagon e-mail obtained by Politico.
Sequestration would force military services and defense department agencies to cut $46 billion from a roughly $600 billion budget in 2013.
The few exemptions from the furloughs would include those deployed to combat zones, “employees necessary to protect safety of life and property” and those who are exempted by law, such as political appointees.
Hundreds of Pentagon-related companies, including BAE Systems, which provides an array of goods and services for the military, and Ammcon Corp., which makes pipe joints and flanges for aircraft carriers and submarines, are also preparing to lay off thousands of employees.
The warning from the Pentagon and government contractors is the latest attempt to drive home the dangers of the across-the-board cuts in defense spending and discretionary domestic spending.
With just nine days to go, the message is starting to hit closer to home for the 535 members of Congress, who need to make contingency plans of their own and start preparing their employees for the possibility of layoffs and salary cuts.
“The sequester will in fact hit members and their offices, and leadership offices, and committees,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters last week. “And in addition to that, other capitol offices — whether it be the Architect of the Capitol, or the chief administrative officer — all of those offices are subject to the sequester as well.”
A report issued in September from the Office of Management and Budget said that all office salaries and operating expenses would face an 8.2 percent cut for fiscal year 2013, which would amount to roughly $101 million for all House offices and $32 million for all Senate offices. All congressional offices — from leadership to committees to personal offices — would be hit with equal cuts.
The only exemptions would be the legislators themselves. Congressional members’ salaries aren’t subject to the sequester and they can’t cut their own pay without voting to do so.
Still, many have had to delay hiring new staff or cut back on expenses ahead of the possible cuts.
“It’s going to be a strain,” Louisiana GOP Rep. Charles Boustany told Politico. “My district has grown, I have three new parishes. I’d love to be able to hire an additional staffer to handle that new area. Rent’s going up. We’re already pretty bare . . . It's going to be tough but we’ll deal with it.”
Most lawmakers insist they would prefer not to have to do so. But with negotiations nowhere in sight, both sides are intent on assigning blame for the sequester should it take effect.
Obama on Tuesday hosted firefighters and other first responders at an event at the White House, where he said Republicans would be responsible if the spending cuts take effect and cost the jobs of emergency personnel.
He claimed Republicans have not asked anything of the wealthiest Americans or biggest corporations and instead have chosen to “double down, in fact, on the harsh, harmful cuts.”
Republicans have in turn implicated the president. "The president offered no credible plan that can pass Congress — only more calls for higher taxes," Boehner said on Tuesday.
At the same time, three GOP senators — John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte — issued a joint statement saying, “The President held another campaign event to blame Republicans for sequestration, which was actually his idea in the first place. This country needs a Commander-in-Chief, not a Campaigner-in-Chief.”
Meanwhile, Macroeconomic Advisers, an independent economic group, said Tuesday that sequestration would likely cost about 700,000 jobs and push the unemployment rate a quarter of a percentage point higher than it otherwise would be.
It said in its analysis that the cuts would be a significant economic hit, given that taxes have already gone up this year and “with the economy still struggling to overcome the legacy of the Great Recession.”
Some lawmakers also made that argument in relation to pending cuts that could hit their own districts or states. According to Politico, some members of the House and Senate from both sides of the aisle, even those who insist that government spending is out of control, have been meeting privately with administration officials in a last minute attempt to avoid cuts to government programs in their own backyards.
Republican Sen. Susan Collins, for example, has been in talks with top Navy officials at the Pentagon and in the Capitol about how to save thousands of jobs at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and related contractors in her home state of Maine.
Democratic Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico has also raised concerns with the administration about the harm potential cuts could do to his state’s White Sands Missile Range and two national laboratories, which help manage the nation’s nuclear stockpile.
But despite the concerns, and with Congress in recess until next Monday, there appears to be no movement toward a deal that would head off the sequester.
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