, Gloucester, MA

April 23, 2013

Editorial: Fed lawmakers can't keep selves above sequester's pain

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — The pain from the federal government’s sequestration cuts — those automatic federal spending cuts triggered because Congress can’t pass a budget — is being felt.

Hundreds of thousands of federal employees will take a pay cut, including about 750,000 at the Pentagon alone. And that’s extended to 200 workers based here in Gloucester, where an expected four-day furlough at NOAA Northeast regional headquarters in Blackburn Industrial Park could bring a brief shutdown of the facility.

While a number of fishermen — forced out of the business, in some cases, because of the agency’s regulations — might see true irony in that move, the fact is, it is yet another hit, however brief, on the city’s economy if it means that even some of those 200 workers won’t be in town supporting local businesses. And that just adds to the problems posed by other reductions, including to Defense contracts held by other local companies.

But one group is curiously absent from the pain — the very group creating the mess because they aren’t doing their jobs.

Members of Congress won’t take a pay cut because their pay is exempted from the sequester.

Under a Reagan-era law — when the sequester idea was first introduced — certain spending is exempt from automatic cuts, including, reasonably, Social Security, interest on the debt and Pell grants. But it also protects the pay of members of Congress and the president — though President Obama announced that he’d return 5 percent of his pay during the sequester.

Congress could vote to cut its own pay, although by law the cut wouldn’t take effect until after the next election. Of course, there is nothing stopping all members from giving 5 percent of their pay to a charity or back to the federal treasury.

But at the very least, the leadership in both chambers needs to take a cut for failing to get a budget through Congress.

The fact that Congress isn’t sharing in the fiscal pain it has caused, of course, is by no means the most egregious, or costly, spending that is being continued during sequestration.

Congress has passed a stop-gap spending measure that preserves $380 million to finish development of a missile that doesn’t work and the Pentagon says it won’t buy. The reason for the folly is, apparently, twofold. Germany and Italy, which are helping develop the missile, pressured the U.S. to continue funding. And powerful members of Congress want to keep jobs at defense contractors in their districts.

Then, of course, there’s the almost laughable — but hardly funny — scenario under which the Department of Commerce has recognized the Northeast groundfishery, including Gloucester’s diminishing fleet, as an “economic disaster,” thanks again to the government’s own policies, yet hasn’t directed a time toward addressing it.

The sequester cuts, painful as they are, account for only a small fraction of the amount the federal government spends beyond its means. The $85 billion in cuts apply to the remainder of the 2013 fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. But without a deal they will continue slashing government spending by about $1 trillion more over a 10-year period. The cut for the current fiscal amounts to just 2.4 percent of spending.

President Obama has proposed a $3.77 trillion budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. But that budget includes $1 trillion in new taxes over the next 10 years.

Unless Congress is willing to enact meaningful spending reductions, the president and our legislative leaders can forget about major new tax increases.

But such fortitude is unlikely from a crew that insulates itself from even the most modest fiscal pain — and has once placed itself above its own mandates. That’s the wrong message to send — even to those in its own, bloated bureaucracies.