Story Summary

Sequestration: A kind of fiscal doomsday device

“Sequestration” is a series of automatic, across-the-board cuts to government agencies totaling $1.2 trillion over 10 years. The cuts would be split 50-50 between defense and domestic discretionary spending.

It’s all part of attempts to get a handle on the growth of the U.S. national debt, which exploded upward when the 2007 recession hit and now stands at more than $16 trillion. The sequester has been coming for more than a year, with Congress pushing it back to March 1 as part of the fiscal cliff deal at the end of the last session.

It started with the 2011 standoff over the U.S. debt ceiling, when Republicans in Congress demanded spending cuts in exchange for giving the Obama administration the needed legal headroom to pay the federal government’s obligations to its bondholders. In the end, Congress and the administration agreed to more than $2 trillion in cuts. About $1 trillion of that was laid out in the debt-ceiling bill and the rest imposed through sequestration — a kind of fiscal doomsday device that Congress would have to disarm by coming up with an equal amount of spending reductions elsewhere.

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Local News

DOD reduces furlough days

chuck hagel cropSEATTLE — The U.S. Department of Defense has announced that it will reduce the number of required furlough days from 11 to six, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced Tuesday. The move will impact hundreds of thousands of employees nationwide.

The move could provide some financial relief to many Western Washington civilian employees at bases throughout the state who will not be forced into taking five additional unpaid work days. The furloughs were put in place July 8 as part of sequestration.

In a press release, Hagel said: “When I announced my decision on May 14 to impose furloughs of up to 11 days on civilian employees to help close the budget gap caused by sequestration, I also said we would do everything possible to find the money to reduce furlough days for our people. With the end of the fiscal year next month, managers across the DoD are making final decisions necessary to ensure we make the $37 billion spending cuts mandated by sequestration, while also doing everything possible to limit damage to military readiness and our workforce. … As part of that effort at the Department of Defense, I am announcing today that, thanks to the DoD’s efforts to identify savings and help from Congress, we will reduce the total numbers of furlough days for DoD civilian employees from 11 to six.”

Local News

Video: Federal sequestration effects hit home

SEATTLE — They have been dreaded for months, and now they’re here.  Defense furloughs started this week for thousands across Washington.  And Friday, they are going to hit the biggest installation of all, Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

jblmThese forced days-off amount to a 20% salary cut that hits families at an extremely tough time.  They are part of the federal sequestration that took effect earlier this year when Democrats and Republicans couldn’t agree on a budget plan.

The unpaid furlough days are for civilian military employees only, but because they provide crucial support roles, having them gone one day a week is going to be very hard on those in uniform.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., went on the floor of the Senate to express frustration that these big cuts couldn’t be averted.

“The furloughs are going to hurt our soldiers,” Murray said. “They are going to limit their access to medical care. They are going to cut back on the family support programs. And they are going to make it tougher to find a job when they finish their military careers.”

Thousands are going to be affected in bases such as Fairchild over in Eastern Washington and the Naval Air Station on Whidbey Island.  But by far, the biggest effects are at the state’s biggest base, JBLM.

JBLM Furlough Highlights:

  • 6,700 civilian employees won’t be coming to work Friday
  • This includes:  aircraft trainers and mechanics, doctors, military support
  • Every Friday from now until Sept. 30.
  • It amounts to a 20% pay cut

These forced pay cuts add up to tens of millions of dollars in lost wages to thousands of military support families.  That’s going to be hard on them and on local companies that depend on JBLM business.

If Congress does not come up with a new budget plan, another round of furloughs are expected after the start of the new fiscal year, Oct. 1.

These cuts are on top of a planned troop reduction of 5,000 at JBLM over the next few years because of the end of the Iraq war and the wind-down of the war in Afghanistan.

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD — About 10,000 civilian employees at JBLM will be furloughed one day a week, most every Friday, and see their pay fall by about 20 percent because of the reduced workweek brought on by federal sequestration budget cuts, the Army announced Monday.


JBLM Commander Col. H. Charles Hodges Jr. announces the furloughing of 10,000 civilian employees.

JBLM Commander Col. H. Charles Hodges Jr. said the first furlough notification letters were distributed May 30 to JBLM employees. The first “furlough Friday” will be July 12 and continue through the rest of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

The commissary will remain open Fridays, but will be closed Mondays, typically the slowest day for sales. Yakima Training Center employees will be furloughed Mondays as well — the day with the least training — beginning July 8.

Hodges said that with 48,000 service members on JBLM and 16,000 civilian employees and contractors, the base is the seventh largest city in Washington state.

“Without our civilians, we could not run or maintain the 7th largest city in Washington,” Hodges said at a news conference. “This furlough is going to have a significant impact on JBLM and the local communities.”

He said it was decided to make most of the furloughs occur on Fridays so that the employees would be able to look for part-time jobs to supplement their income.

“Bottom line: This is going to place a significant financial burden on them and their families,” he said.

He noted that businesses in the area surrounding the sprawling base near Tacoma would suffer, also, because those furloughed employees and their families will have less money to spend on goods and services.

unemployedOLYMPIA — Blame the federal sequester.  The state’s Employment Security Department is preparing to reduce emergency unemployment compensation benefits by more than 20 percent because of federal belt-tightening.

Emergency unemployment compensation (EUC) is a federally funded program that provides additional weeks of unemployment benefits to workers who run out of regular, state-funded benefits. In Washington, regular unemployment benefits last up to 26 weeks, then workers can receive up to 37 weeks of EUC.

Beginning May 19th, EUC recipients will see their weekly benefits reduced when they move from regular benefits onto EUC, or when they move from their current tier of EUC to the next tier.

The maximum weekly benefit is $604 for claims opened since July 2012.

About 40,000 people in Washington are now receiving EUC or nearing the end of their regular unemployment benefits. Employment Security is using direct mail, email and robocalls to inform them about the impending change.

Local News

Brace for longer lines, shorter hours at national parks

mount-rainier-np-lSEATTLE– If you plan on visiting a national park in Washington state this summer, you should plan ahead, officials said.

Authorities with the National Parks systems warned visitors to brace for longer lines and shorter hours in parks around the country.

Forced federal budget cuts — known as sequestration — have slashed $183 million from the National Parks Service budget, which runs 401 national parks, memorials, lakeshores, parkways and historic sites.

According to the National Parks Association, the cuts will result in longer lines at entrance gates, shorter visitor hours, locked restrooms and overflowing garbage cans. More than 700 U.S. Park Rangers have been forced to take furlough days.

Officials suggest park attendees call ahead to confirm a park or campground is open.

murraySEATTLE — Ever since the federal sequestration went into effect, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., is on what you might call a “sequestration tour” to point out how the cuts are affecting this state.

She’s been to Head Start classes, met with furloughed military families, talked to seniors who rely on Meals on Wheels, and, today, met with cancer researchers and patients to hear their stories about worries about the cuts.

“We need to replace the entire sequestration and do it in a responsible way,” Murray said.  “I am deeply concerned that the message in Washington D.C., has been, oh the sequestration, a few airport lines, we’ve fixed it, all’s good.”

During a tour of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Murray met a former patient, Lisa Verner, who had stem cell transplant a few years back to treat a life-threatening lymphoma.

“If we don’t have the NIH funding these clinical trials, then people like me die,” Verner said, calling the sequester cuts “disastrous.”

In all, there will be $44 million in NIH sequestration cuts in Washington state between now and September that will directly impact medical research.

“We are severely hampering our ability to save lives in the future, to save costs in the future, and to do what the country has always done, which is to innovate and be a leader in the world,” said Murray.

Released by Jeanie Kitchens, PAO Naval Station EverettSEATTLE — For the past 40 years, the Navy’s Blue Angels have delighted Seafair fans with their roaring, daredevil stunts, but now, due to sequestration cuts, the Navy has announced that it is canceling the Angels entire season.

In addition, the Navy announced the cancellation of ship visits this year during the Seattle Seafair Fleet Week. What’s a Fleet Week without a fleet?

Budget shortfalls due to federal sequestration are forcing the Navy and other military services to cut back on formal community outreach programs in 2013.

“We appreciate the community’s understanding during these uncertain budgetary times,” said Rear Adm. Mark Rich, Commander Navy Region Northwest. “We will continue to find ways to engage locally, in keeping with Department of Defense guidance. We are thankful for what Seattle, Portland, and our community partners do to support our service men and women every day and look forward to continuing to work with those partners now, and in the future.”

The Navy said the Blue Angels squadron will continue to train at its home base in Pensacola, Fla. The Navy also said that it can only perform at public events without incurring any governmental expense.

The Navy did say it “intends to continue aerial demonstrations in the future as the budget situation permits,” but there is no further word on what exactly those public events would entail.

A Seafair spokesperson said event planners have booked the Patriots Jet Team to fly in place of the Blue Angels.

WASHINGTON (CNN) — President Barack Obama will put 5% of his paycheck back into the federal government’s coffers in a show of unity with furloughed federal workers, a senior administration official said Wednesday.

Obama, whose $400,000 annual salary is set in law and can’t officially be changed, will write a check made out to the U.S. Treasury every month beginning in April. Since the mandatory across-the-board spending cuts went into effect March 1, his payment for last month will be paid retroactively.

“The president has decided that to share in the sacrifice being made by public servants across the federal government that are affected by the sequester, he will contribute a portion of his salary back to the Treasury,” the official said.

obama 03-13-13

Courtesy of Fox News

On Tuesday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced he was giving up the portion of his salary that would have been cut if he had been subject to the same work furlough as thousands of department personnel under the mandatory federal budget cuts. Hagel, who earns $199,700 annually, will write a check to the Treasury for up to 14 days of salary, according to Pentagon press secretary George Little.

As a Cabinet official confirmed by the Senate, Hagel is not subject to the furlough. But Little said Hagel decided to give the equivalent of his furloughed pay to show his support for his workforce. Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter had already announced he was doing the same thing in the weeks before Hagel was confirmed.

On Monday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney announced that nearly 500 furlough notices have gone out to administration employees in reaction to the forced government spending cuts known as sequestration.

“The White House is one of eleven components of the Executive Office of the President which is indeed, as we have said, subject to the sequester,” Carney said. “Within the Executive Office of the President, several offices have sent furlough notices to their staff, including to 480 employees of the Office of Management and Budget.”