Even before the federal budget sequester took effect Friday, Miami Valley residents were expressing profound disappointment and frustration with lawmakers who failed to head off the across-the-board spending cuts that threaten jobs, economic growth and the military readiness of the country.
Still, opinions vary on who is to blame for the $1.2 trillion in indiscriminate cuts, including $85 billion in the current fiscal year, and the impact those cuts will have in Ohio.
In the Dayton area, the families of civilians working at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base are expected to be hit hardest by the sequester, which will cut Department of Defense spending by an estimated 20 percent over the next 10 years, resulting in the furlough of 26,000 civilian employees in Ohio, according to The White House.
“Let it happen,” said Dave Cooper, himself a retired civil servant at Wright-Patterson who was furloughed in the mid-1990s. “Those guys at Wright-Patt ain’t gonna be hurt by this. When we came back to work, they gave us back pay for days we didn’t even work.”
Military officials have given no indication that workers furloughed because of the sequester would be given back pay.
But even at the cost of lost wages, Cooper said as he strolled along Main Street, the government must act to curb runaway spending and trim the nation’s $1.4 trillion budget deficit, even if the cuts are made with the carnage of a meat cleaver rather than the the precision of a scalpel.
Cooper blames President Barrack Obama, primarily, for allowing sequestration to occur: “He’s not leading at all.” But he said Congress bears at least some culpability.
“They got no backbone to do any real cutting,” he said, referring to both Democrats and Republicans in Congress. “It just seems like nobody will take any real leadership and do anything about this situation we’re in.”
Tough cuts ahead
The forced cuts are to be evenly split between the defense budget and non-defense discretionary spending, including federal grants to state and local agencies, some funding for teachers, even jobless benefits and job-search aid.
“They’re cutting everything for poor people, basically,” said Shelia Robinson of Dayton, who had been looking for work for more than six months before landing a clerical job last week with the inventory management firm, Wis International.
Robinson said she doubts she would have found a job without the free job search and consulting services offered at the Montgomery County Job Center, and she said it’s simply unfair for “rich politicians” to deny others in her situation the same opportunity because of the sequester.
“I don’t have a computer at home, access to the Internet or anything like that,” she said. “Coming here allowed me to reach out further than I could otherwise since I have to take the bus. This was the best place for me and most of the people here to look for a job.”
Ohio will lose about $1.8 million in funding for job search assistance, referral and placement services as a result of sequestration, affecting about 57,000 residents, according to the White House report.
Mandatory programs, including Social Security and Medicaid, will be spared under the sequester, but most people still see it as having an overall negative impact on the economy, based on a slew of recent surveys.
Sara Repasy of Fairborn said she and many of her friends who work at the Air Force base have already begun making contingency plans.
“They’re talking 20 percent cuts, and for working families that’s huge,” said Repasy, as she was leaving the Fairborn Public Library with her son, Ryan, 10, and daughter, Charlotte, 8. “Talking among friends and acquaintances, we’re already planning not to do things we would normally do because we’re worried about the loss of income.”
Who's to blame?
She lamented the apparent lack of urgency on the part of lawmakers to strike a budget deal before the sequester took effect, and she described politicians who downplay the impact of the cuts as “clearly out of touch.”
“We’re still coming off the recession. Folks are still unemployed. Folks who are getting jobs are working part-time without benefits or health care,” Repasy said. “People who are in working families are very concerned that the cuts will make things worse.”
Still, Repasy remains hopeful that a a budget deal will be reached before the full impact of the sequester sets in, and she’s reluctant to place the blame on Congress or President Obama.
“I don’t know who to blame,” she said. “But we do pay them to represent us, and we hope that things start to straighten out and that our folks in government do what they’ve been hired to do.”
Across the street from the library at Foy’s Rock & Roll Grill, manager Yvonne Butcher didn’t hesitate to point the finger of blame at Congress for failing to abide by one the central operating principles of any successful organization: compromise.
“There is none of that in Washington. They can’t get along for anything,” Butcher said. “The Republicans side with Republicans, and the Democrats side with Democrats. They fight like kids. We’re not paying them for that. It makes you wonder why we voted for them.”
Scott Fogel, a freshman studying political science at the University of Dayton, said he does not consider the impasse that allowed the sequester to take place a failure of government. Instead, he blamed voters in general and the polarization of the country along political party lines.
“Congress is elected by the people, so if Congress is having a problem it’s reflective of the people who elected Congress, which is us,” said Fogel, who was among two dozen UD political science students who flew to Washington, D.C., last week on a class trip.
“It is kind of frustrating when you read the news about the sequester happening and that things aren’t getting done,” said Fogel, a native of Long Island, N.Y. “But both sides are kind of hostage to their own party. It’s frustrating to know that everybody can’t just sit down and be adult and work things out.”
READERS REACT to sequestration:
The sequester, or the $1.2 trillion package of automatic forced federal budget cuts that took effect Friday, was originally intended as an incentive for Congress to find $1.2 trillion in budget deficit reduction on its own. But Congress and the White House have been unable to come up with an alternative to the sequester or reach a long-term budget deal. The following are excerpts from Dayton Daily News readers’ reactions to the sequester taking effect.
- Melissa Goodall: There should be a petition to reduce the salaries of congress, congressional and presidential staff members and aids, appointees, and the President to minimum wage. Then remove all their expense accounts. With enough signatures, they are required to send it on through. Let’s show them we are seriously tired of it. One side bitches about too many entitlements but DON’T cut them - close the loopholes, the other side bitching the loopholes and entitlements are needed but cut entitlements. Add corporate executives and lobbyists as well. They are also pat of the problem in my opinion! LEAD BY EXAMPLE!
- Bonnie Stonerock: Pretend they can be adults and solve the problems or step down and put people in office who can!
- Jennie Forsythe Crisp: I think they should take pay cuts of their own and actually start paying for their own insurance like every other working American has to…why should the people we elect and work for us live better than all of the working population??!!!
- Dave Watson: They should do nothing,,,the sequestration is a lot about nothing.
- Donald Burton: Cut the spending and stop spinning this as a major crisis. I know somebody who will receive a federal tax refund that amounts to almost 15 times what they paid in. And that is one of many examples. It is pretty clear we have a broken system.
- Alan Scott Drais: Lock them inside the capital building, remove ALL food sources from within and don’t let them out till they are done. Budget settled within 24 hours. Simple Logic.