Uncertainty the theme as Virginia members of Congress talk sequestration
Sequestration -- across-the-board federal budget cuts -- are set to kick in Friday, potentially halting and reversing the economic recovery and hampering everything from national security and air travel to early education and climate change.
The cuts, in enacted, will carve more than $1 trillion out of the federal budget over the next decade strictly by slashing defense and discretionary spending.
Sen. Mark Warner, a Democrat, expressed blunt disappointment in Congress' inability to deal with problems before the “eleventh hour.” Warner has worked in recent years with a bipartisan Gang of Six to address the debt and deficit crisis.
But despite that laboring, another economic calamity, the second in three months, looms.
Speaking with CBS' This Morning on Monday, Warner reiterated his view that the solution should come from a balanced approach of spending cuts and increased revenues.
“The Senate actually has a plan, half cuts, half revenues, but what the House will do – who knows?” Warner told CBS.
Speaking in Leesburg earlier this month, Warner said there's a smart and dumb way to get at reducing the deficit. Mandated across-the-board cuts is the absolute dumbest, Warner says.
The plan for sequestration, passed by both chambers of Congress and signed off on by President Barack Obama, was intentionally drawn up as too dire not to act, Warner said.
Yet here's the current situation: U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says the nation's security readiness will be in serious jeopardy if the cuts go through. The cuts will decimate the Head Start early education program, reduce environmental funding for clean air and water and reduce the workforce of the Federal Aviation Administration.
Virginia's junior senator, Democrat Tim Kaine, was hopeful late last week both chambers could find a compromise.
“Because this is a completely artificial, self-imposed crisis, we ought to be able to find a better way forward,” said Kaine, who was elected just four months ago. “If we don't do regular budgeting and we do budgeting by crisis, guess what? There's going to be a crisis.”
Both Kaine and Warner expect the Senate will take a vote this week on more targeted cuts as opposed to the sequester.
“Revenues in the Senate plan are targeted at closing down a certain number of tax loopholes for the most successful Americans,” Warner said. “It will also have half spending cuts, so it is a 50-50 balance. What’s remarkable is the New Years’ Eve deal had about $600 billion in revenue. Every bipartisan plan before that had about twice the amount in total revenues…
“In addition, we need to do entitlement reforms… but there’s no reasonable plan out there that at a $4 trillion number didn’t have north of a trillion dollars in [total] revenues,” Warner said.
A majority of Americans want Congress to delay the sequester, according to a Bloomberg News poll. Fifty-four percent of the more than 1,000 people polled wanted the economy to have more time to heal, while four in 10 favor Congress making the cuts now.
U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-10th), of Virginia, said Monday he couldn't predict how the week would play out. Wolf repeatedly criticized Obama for “not leading on the issue.”
Wolf said Obama has the power -- if he would invite members of Congress to the White House to sit down and hash out a deal, they'd show up, the congressman noted.
Wolf, one of 16 House Republicans who voted for a bill based on the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles debt and deficit commission, said he stands by that approach. Simpson-Bowles' original recommendation never made it out of committee, and legislation based on the commission's findings failed overwhelmingly in the Republican-dominated House (despite Wolf's yea vote) and was never voted on in the Senate.
Currently, Wolf said, neither the House or Senate has a plan on the table that can pass both chambers.
Warner too brought up the Simpson-Bowles plan last week.
“As somebody who has lain out and taken the arrows from both sides, we laid out a plan that was kind of Simpson-Bowles on steroids, the Gang of Six plan. I think if we’d gotten it to the floor, we would’ve gotten a majority,” Warner told Kai Ryssdal on American Public Radio's Marketplace. “But there are a lot of folks in Washington that quite honestly, I’m not sure want to reach the kind of compromise that we need.”
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