Congress comes up with money to end Defense Department furloughs

DoD_sealSecretary of Defense Chuck Hagel issued a memorandum today effectively ending the furloughs of hundreds of thousands of Department of Defense civilian employees in mid-August. Mandatory one-day-a-week leave of the civilian work force will end five weeks earlier than scheduled–as well as their corresponding twenty percent pay cut.

The furloughs were implemented in June as a Department-wide cost-cutting measure to cover a $11 billion shortfall because of the sequester, sweeping automatic budget cuts resulting from Congressional indecision. Active duty military considered to be part of the “war effort” were exempt from the furloughs, while 800,000 civil servants have been affected.

At first, civilian employees were told to expect 14 days of unpaid leave starting in May. Later the furloughs were downgraded to 11 days from July 8 to mid-September. Hagel’s announcement reduces them further to a total of six days.

According to Secretary Hagel, furloughs were among “limited options” to “close [the] gap” in the budget shortfall. Unsurprisingly, the twenty percent cut in pay resulting from the furloughs and its unequal application has caused dissension among the ranks.

Yet the constraints imposed by the Congressional sequester seem to have had more flexibility than anticipated, and the Department of Defense appears to have come up with some money as well. In the memo, Hagel writes:

Congress has approved most of a large reprogramming request that we submitted in mid-May, giving us flexibility to move funds across accounts. The military services have been aggressive in identifying ways to hold down costs, and we have been successful in shifting savings (including furlough savings) to meet our highest priority needs.

A memorandum Hagel issued earlier this week indicated that furloughs may be proposed again next year, or for as long as five years, in order to bring the bloated Defense budget in line with the President’s plan for reduction.

The odds are high for furloughs continuing under a sequester next year as Congress has yet to pass a balanced budget, opting to allocate funds on the basis of continuing resolutions. The $85 billion sequester reductions are the result of a Congress unable to agree on how much to cut government spending or where the cuts should be made.

Sequester has affected government services in a variety of sectors. In April, air traffic controllers were furloughed for several weeks, resulting in significant delays in air travel. The Friday before Congress was to travel home for spring break, they voted to approve a last minute re-allocation of $253 million from funds the FAA already had in another account.

The sequester also slashed budgets for Federal Parks, Head Start early education, Meals on Wheels, public defenders and many other services in which civil servants have had their hours reduced.

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Thanks, Super Committee!

Image by DonkeyHotey/Flickr

The massive automatic budget cuts known as sequestration take effect today, March 1. We should take a moment to thank those responsible for bringing Baby Sequester into the world: the Super Committee.

The United States Congress Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, aka the Super Congress, aka the Super Committee, is a one of the outcomes of the debt-ceiling “crisis” orchestrated to distract U.S. citizens from the lack of jobs, rising cost of living and rampant corporate/government corruption.

Yes, this goes back to the August 2011 faux crisis when Republicans refused to raise the debt ceiling to pay off obligations that the government (aka Congress) had already incurred. To stave off disaster, a group of a dozen Senators and Congressmen put their heads together and… couldn’t agree on anything.

The reason we are facing the sequestration is because the “Super Committee” that was formed to come up with $1.2 trillion of more carefully targeted spending cuts failed to do its one job. The irony is that at the time of the Super Committee’s formation, it was widely believed that the sequestration was an awesome idea that would totally guarantee the Super Committee’s success. By hanging the sequestration over everyone’s heads like the Sword of Damocles, they reasoned, the members of the Super Committee would be Super Motivated to reach a Super Agreement. 

A year and a half later, Congress still can’t agree on basic fiscal policy. The Sword of Damocles has struck.

Be sure to thank Super Committee members today!

Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT)
Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), now Secretary of State
Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), retired
Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), Co-Chair
Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH)
Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA)
Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA)
Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI)
Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC)
Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), Co-Chair
Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI)
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD)

(h/t DonkeyHotey)

Sins of sequestration: Republicans refuse to end giveaways to corporations and super-rich

Republicans are always for cutting the federal budget, right? Nope, not when it comes to protecting the assets of their super-wealthy friends.

In the sequester battle, here are some of the things they refuse to cut:

  • $10 billion in tax deductions for vacation homes and yachts
  • $168 billion in tax breaks to corporations that ship jobs overseas
  • $3 billion in the “corporate jet loophole”
  • $25 billion in special tax breaks to the largest oil companies

Greg Sargeant of the Washington Post says that “the GOP approach to the sequester is so deeply unserious that no deal looks even remotely possible.”

John Boehner has admitted that he wants to eliminate the deficit in ten years–all without new revenues. That could mean reducing the size of government spending by one-sixth to one-third.

The sequester is a gift to Republicans: starve the beast until it dies. Until we all perish along with it.

Sequester ends blank check for Pentagon–badly

Friends Committee on National Legislation has a different take on automatic cuts to Pentagon spending: cut away. The core Pentagon budget still hasn’t fallen even after the scale-back in Iraq and Afghanistan, and almost equals that of Vietnam and the Cold War.

The New York Times agrees, but views the sequester as a blunt instrument.

The arbitrary budget cuts known as the sequester will exact a toll on not only domestic programs but military spending as well. Hence the howls in Washington from the Pentagon chieftains and their ardent Congressional supporters. But the truth is that the military budget not only can be cut, but should be cut, though not with this kind of political machete and not in the way the service chiefs say they plan to wield it…

If the Pentagon is ill prepared to deal with the sequester, it is to some extent a self-inflicted wound. Military leaders assumed the sequester would never happen and refused to mitigate its effects in advance. The Pentagon also does itself no favor by continuing to throw money at troubled weapons. As for the sequester’s impact on defense contractors, experts say the contractors have long known military spending was on the decline and built that into their projections.

Sins of sequestration: Nation’s weather forecasting compromised

The sequester will slash the National Weather Service budget and compromise its ability to produce reliable weather forecasts.

An 8.2 percent across-the-board cut in spending, from the so-called sequester, will trim already financially-depleted programs critical for maintaining and improving the NWS’ weather capabilities.

“It’s not going to be pretty,” said outgoing National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chief Jane Lubchenco at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (according to Climate Central). “The sequester has the potential to wreak havoc with so many different things…”

Don’t forget that these have been record-setting years for weather.

The cuts loom large following a two-year onslaught of extreme weather, including Superstorm Sandy and continuing historic drought conditions in the Heartland. In 2011 and 2012, the U.S. experienced the most and second most number of billion dollar weather disasters on record.

Cheerleaders for America were horrified when the European weather forecasting model beat out the National Weather Service’s in predicting the path of Superstorm Sandy. Turns out it takes money to make accurate predictions, and there may be even less of it now.

The cash-strapped National Weather Service is facing increasing scrutiny over its inferior computer modeling power compared to international peers and is anticipating a likely gap in weather satellite coverage. Last week, the Government Accountability Office ranked the pending satellite gap among the top 30 threats facing the Federal government.

The Department of Commerce warned that not only will the loss of satellite data and imagery diminish the quality of forecasts, but so will other important weather data surrendered by spending cuts.

“NOAA will face the loss of highly trained technical staff and partners,” a DOC spokesperson said. “As a result, the government runs the risk of significantly increasing forecast error and, the government’s ability to warn Americans across the country about high impact weather events, such as hurricanes and tornadoes, will be compromised.”

With global warming on the rise and the polar ice caps melting, we can look forward to extreme weather events with more frequency. It’s the perfect time to increase funding to the National Weather Service–not cut it.

Sins of sequestration: 88% of civilian workers furloughed from Department of Defense

Civilian workers at the DoD provide medical care to veterans./Photo by Garrett Hubbard/USA Today

The Pentagon is delivering the bad news to its employees: Of the 800,000 civilians who work for the Department of Defense, an estimated 700,000 would be furloughed for one day a week if the sequestration cuts occur.

Things that won’t be cut:

  • The official wars the U.S. is fighting
  • The secrets wars the U.S. is fighting
  • Secret holding facilities for “terrorists”
  • Drone bombing
  • Unnecessary weapons, such as Abrams MI Tanks.

Sins of sequestration: 70,000 kids booted from Head Start

Early childhood education is not only about academic success, but children’s emotional and social development. It’s also important for getting services to kids in vulnerable families and neighborhoods:

Research shows that early education is vital to children’s long term success, particularly for those who are the most vulnerable. If Head Start programs disappear or services are substantially reduced without corollary program development, it is unclear whether children would attend other preschools or programs, and if so, what the quality of those services would be.