Fiscal Collapse: US Congress to Make Sequester Cuts Permanent
By Andre Damon
March 19, 2013
Hundreds of thousands face unpaid furloughs
As the US government prepares to furlough hundreds of thousands of federal employees next month, Congress is moving to make permanent the $1.2 trillion in spending cuts over the next decade mandated by the sequester process that was triggered at the beginning of March.
The Democratic-controlled Senate is expected this week to approve a so-called “continuing resolution” that will fund the federal government through the end of the fiscal year on September 30. A version of the bill has already been passed by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. Both the House and Senate versions include the $85 billion in cuts for fiscal year 2013 mandated by the sequester.
On top of these cuts, both versions of the bill include provisions to freeze federal pay through the end of this year, reversing an earlier executive order to end the current pay freeze and give federal employees a 0.5 percent raise.
With the sequester cuts secured for rest of the fiscal year, the two parties will intensify their discussions on next year’s federal budget and plans to impose unprecedented attacks on the most basic social programs—Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.
Congressional Democrats have made clear they have no intention of using the threat of a government shutdown, which would result from failure to pass a continuing resolution, in order to reverse the sequester cuts.
Since the exact form of the across-the-board sequester cuts are still being worked out, it is not clear precisely how many workers will face payless furloughs, but preliminary figures indicate that over one million employees could be affected. Many workers could lose more than 20 percent of their annual salary.
The spending bill passed by the House contains provisions giving the military much greater flexibility in distributing the burden of the spending cuts, meaning there will be little discernible impact on military capacity. The burden of the cuts will be born overwhelmingly by civilian employees of the military.
Admiral Jonathan Greenert, the Navy’s top uniformed officer, said earlier this month that compared to the original sequester provisions, the changes implemented in the bill are “almost night and day.” The admiral said that as a result of the bill, for instance, the Navy could proceed with the building of two new carriers whose construction it had previously threatened to halt.
“A huge portion of these cuts will come directly out of the pay of federal workers,” said Jackie Simon, the public policy director of the American Federation of Government Employees in a telephone interview Monday. “The Department of Defense has chosen to protect its contractors and make its civilian employees pay for the cuts,” she continued, adding that “the DOD spends over $200 billion per year on service contracts: none of these have been cut, and nothing is coming out of uniformed services.”