The Final Countdown

Since midnight on New Year’s Eve 2012, many residents in our community, including me, have been living under the gun. It’s a threat that we have little control over and one, in which our voice has not been heard, but come March 1, it’s one that we all will face.

02-27-13-publisher\'s-pen.gifIf you are not a news junkie, you might not know what I am talking about, but in the coming weeks, even if this threat doesn’t directly affect you, it ultimately will.

I’m talking about Sequestration.

Sequestration is just a big word for making cuts in our national budget with no rhyme or reason. In particular, it targets the Department of Defense. And if you think civilian cuts to the DoD don’t affect you, wake up! The very economic health of this community is built on the budgets of every unit and command assigned to Fort Bragg. There are around 14,125 Department of Defense civilians employed on Fort Bragg. In total, the annual payroll for these employees is $548,502,504. Triple those numbers and you will be knocking on that of the soldiers assigned here.

Think about how much of that money is going into our community in housing, dining, retail, etc. If you don’t think it impacts our community, then you are probably living in the same dream world as the Congress.

If, over the next week, Congress makes no move to prevent Sequestration there will be $85 billion in cuts to the U.S. budget that will impact everything from food inspections to air traffi c control to law enforcement to education. If left as is, these austerity measures could cost 750,000 jobs and keep weak economic growth stunted for the rest of 2013, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.

First implemented in 2011, these dire measures were supposed to be so painful that it would force the children serving in Congress to work together to make more intelligent cuts. That didn’t happen. So, instead of working as the clock winds down, Congress went on an eight-day President’s Day Break. President Obama, said on Tuesday from his golf hiatus that the Sequestration would “visit hardship on a whole lot of people.” Obviously not anyone who lives in Washington, D.C.

But here in Fayetteville, it’s a different story. Sequestration will directly impact this community. The hardship will be evident. Many of the companies that have relocated to Fayetteville in order to pursue government contracts will be left with their pockets empty as contracts are slashed. Remember those government civilians who bring more than $548 million to the economy? Cut that by close to $110 million. Guess who won’t be eating out? Guess who won’t be shopping? Guess who won’t be getting their haircut, their carpets cleaned or buying new cars or houses? Now think about how that will impact you and your neighbors.

Do you think our elected officials have thought about the second- and third-order effects of their inability to govern? Let’s look at what they are doing and what they are saying. First, they are on vacation. Really? When I have a deadline looming, I’m at my desk hard at work. I’m not taking a break.

Let’s look at what the House Minority Leader had to say when it was suggested that if all government employees were going to lose 1/5 of their pay over the next six months, then she should as well. Nancy Pelosi’s well-reasoned response was:

“I don’t think we should do it; I think we should respect the work we do,” Pelosi told reporters in the Capitol. “I think it’s necessary for us to have the dignity of the job that we have rewarded.”

Seriously? Who would have thought these words would have ever come out of her mouth. Consider them against the words of Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter when testifying before the Senate Appropriations Committee. Carter, who spoke eloquently of the dangers implicit in these cuts to our national defense brought it down to a personal level.

“There’s a real human impact here,” Carter said. “And in addition to the military and civilian personnel, the effects will be devastating on the defense industry, upon which we depend.”

Carter said that if Sequestration happens, and if government civilians are forced into 22 days of furlough, they will not feel the pain alone. He pledged to return a fifth of his own salary to the U.S. Treasury, noting that he cannot be furloughed because he is a Senate-confi rmed presidential employee. But he gets it. You can’t ask others to absorb the pain if you aren’t willing to do it yourself.

I propose that every member of Congress return 22 days of their pay, which collectively is $779,000. Further President Obama should return his 20 percent or $46,538.

It’s time that Congress gets the message: Get it together or get out.

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