PoliticsOhio: Deadline To Avoid Sequestration Looms With Little Hope Of A Deal

Feb 22, 2013

There is one week left to avoid sequestration, or the automatic spending cuts that will take effect March 1 if President Obama and Congress cannot reach a deal. Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, area business and those in the defense industry are bracing for furloughs that could impact the 13,000  civilian employees, which could have a ripple effect on the local economy. Jessica Wehrman joins Emily McCord for this week's PoliticsOhio. She's a reporter for the Columbus Dispatch based in Washington, D.C., and her stories appear in the Dayton Dailys News. Wehrman tells McCord that there isn't the same sense of urgency on Capital Hill to reach a deal and it's likely the cuts will take effect next week.

Emily McCord: One week until the deadline for a deal between President Obama and Congress to avoid sequestration or the automatic  spending cuts that will go into affect March first. To talk to me about what is happening, or not happening, as the case may be, in Washington, Jessica Wehrman is here. She's a reporter for the Columbus dispatch based in Washington DC and her stories appear in the Dayton Daily News. Thanks for being here.

Jessica Wehrman: Thanks for having me.

EC: Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, area businesses and others related to the defense industry are bracing for furloughs that could impact thirteen thousand civilian employees here; there seems to be a growing sense of anxiety as to whether something is going to happen or not. Is the same sense of urgency happening in Washington?

JW: Um, no. Actually, this week or this past week Congress has actually been out of town. Now the president had an event on Tuesday where he was flanked by public safety officials talking about the impact on public safety, congress is actually gone though, for the Presidents Day holiday, so they're not returning until the week before this all shakes out before this March first deadline. So if there is an endgame here I'm not really sure that I see it. In fact there are some folks who say,  you know these have to go into place. Nobody likes the way these cuts would go into place, but Republicans  kind of believe that this is the only way they can get President Obama to get serious about cutting spending.

EC: What are our local lawmakers, Speaker Boehner, Mike Turner Senator Portman what are they doing on this?

JW: Let's break this down a little bit. First of all, for the most part, and I'm going to go into the exception in a bit, most of our  lawmakers voted for the 2011 bill that basically put into play the course of action thats leading to these cuts. the exception is mike turner, who will remind you of this frequently because he says he saw this coming the entire time. Everyone, regardless of whether they voted for the bill, all of them will tell you that they don't like the way these cuts are because they are across the board, they are sort of hacking with a machete away at these discretionary programs and there's no thought to it.  The best analogy I heard for this was, I talked to a defense contractor in the Dayton area who said, this would be like you taking your budget and cutting 10% out of everything; you still have money to go out to dinner or a movie, but you had 10% less to spend on your rent.  And so as a result, all of local lawmakers would say no this isn't an ideal way to do it. That said there are some lawmakers that are willing to let this go through, just because they really are concerned about our spending issues.

EC: So do you get a sense that there is going to be some last minute deal, or is sequestration sort of inevitable?

JW: Well, I don't see that urgency. Now, next week is another week, starting the 25th Congress is back, who knows, things may change, but at this point I just don't see a way for this not to happen, at least for a little while. Now, its possible this goes into affect, people sort of say wow, this really wasn't a great way to do it,  and Congress changes. There's actually a really good opportunity to alter things at the end of the month when our annual bill funding the entire federal government, the continuing resolution faces expiration. That's one scenario that could play out that this could go on for about a month and then they would undo it  basically through the continuing resolution.

EC: So should this deal go through, Congress is then looking at another month deadline, another deadline that's looming a month from now, we're going to have the same conversation.

JW:  Well, yes exactly, it's kind of a thing, this is sort of variations on a theme of conversations we've been having really, honestly since 2011, probably earlier, I mean you'll remember in 2011 when this budget control act that led to this sequestration was passed people were in a huge panic about raising the debt ceiling versus cutting spending versus what's the most intelligent way to go about this. And this is really a conversation we keep having, and then they pass something and it's short term for the most part and then three months later or six months later they're back at it again.

EC: Give me a sense of how these cuts are going to feel if they go into affect.

JW: I think there is something to be said for the acute nature of these cuts. Now its not like we're all going to wake up on March first and the world will have ended and you'll try to go to your federal government office and it will be closed, it's going to be kind of slow moving for it, for a lot of people. Now, the exception would be areas like Dayton, with Wright-Patterson Air force base, for them it's going to be a little sooner coming because the furloughs will happen, a lot of the folks I talked to will take a 20% cut in pay through end of the fiscal year and I don't think it can be understated, people live, whether it's in Washington DC or Ohio there's a lot of folks who live paycheck to paycheck a 20% cut in pay hurts. Wright-Patt is such a centerpiece of the region's economy, and not just because they've got some good jobs at Wright-Patt, but it's because they've got a lot of other good jobs that are based on the good jobs at Wright-Patt, so there's a potential for a domino affect. That's very destructive to a community and for that to be endangered is nothing to cough about.

EC: I've been speaking with Jessica Wehrman she's based in Washington and reports for the Columbus Dispatch and the Dayton Daily News. Thanks for being here.

JW: Thanks for having me.