Why Congress must replace across-the-board budget cuts

March 19, 2013 

It’s not hard to see why people are fed up with Congress. Two weeks ago, while facing an immediate deadline to replace the reckless across-the-board cuts of sequestra-tion, Congress recessed and members were sent home.

Since I couldn’t be in D.C. working with my colleagues to replace these cuts, I spent the morning the cuts began to take effect with those in our region who will be directly impacted by it.

Thousands of workers in our area, including folks at Joint Base Lewis-McChord and the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, will soon face furloughs and a substantial cut in pay. They had to come to work that day knowing Congress let them down.

They deserve better.

That morning, as I met with folks at the shipyard, I heard three key concerns:

First, I was struck that folks were not just concerned about their own paychecks. They were also concerned about the impact these reckless cuts will have on our entire community and economy.

It’s not just the civilian workforce at JBLM in Pierce County or the shipyard in Kitsap that will feel the pain. Less money in our neighbors’ pockets means less that goes into our economy. A few weeks ago during a small-business roundtable, every single participant told me that this budget uncertainty hinders their ability to grow and succeed.

According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, our nation’s economic growth could be cut by half as a result of sequestration. Every economic analysis tells us that increasing growth is the most effective way to reduce the deficit. So, why would Congress want to exacerbate the deficit problem by slowing economic growth?

Second, I heard the concern that there’s no strategy involved with these cuts. Nearly everyone agrees we need to cut spending and lower deficits but a meat ax is not a solution. During tough times, you wouldn’t cut your family’s budget for housing the same amount as your budget for movies. You’d prioritize.

So should Congress. We can identify wasteful spending and find smarter ways to balance our budget. Cutting across-the-board isn’t a strategy – it’s a failure to lead.

In recent weeks I’ve met with folks concerned about reduced capacity to invest in Head Start, about the enormous impacts to Indian health care and education, and about the tremendous hit to school districts that serve kids from military families from lost impact aid. I also heard from the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department that these cuts will cause reductions in services to high-risk populations, pregnant women and children, and an increased risk of unsafe drinking water.

These are just a few examples; as days go by, we’ll surely hear more about just how reckless these cuts are.

Third, while speaking with workers outside the shipyard gate, I heard a genuine concern about our military readiness. This isn’t self-interest – it’s our national security interest. One woman told me that she was a member of a 14-person crew but 12 of her teammates were temporary workers about to be let go.

“How is my unit supposed to get done what it has to get done?” she asked.

We have work to do in our community. And we have workers who want those jobs. But because Congress won’t do its job, they can’t do theirs.

The frustration of workers at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and at JBLM is similar to the frustration felt by small-business owners and by taxpayers. They’re right to be frustrated.

Congress spends too much time focusing on partisan bickering and not enough time focusing on progress. Congress should do its job to find a responsible, balanced solution to deficit reduction and stop exacerbating our nation’s economic challenges. We need a long-term plan for fiscal sustainability once and for all.

Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, represents the 6th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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