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NC lawmakers divided on what to do about sequestration

As Fayetteville and Fort Bragg residents brace for federal budget cuts that will clog the pipeline that fuels 46 percent of the economy here, their five Washington lawmakers are calling for an end to the impasse that created the crisis.

Just as President Obama and Republican House members have failed to make a deal to prevent the cuts, known as sequestration in the jargon of Washington politicians, the region's lawmakers, too, are divided on what to do.

Republicans blame the president, and Democrats blame Republicans who control the House of Representatives.

"Sequestration was the president's plan all along," Republican Sen. Richard Burr said in a written statement, "he intends to see it go through, he and his cabinet have sole discretion at determining which programs get cut and by how much, and any negative impacts it carries with it will be the direct result of his unwillingness to work with Congress to find a more responsible solution."

The cuts will take more than $1 billion out of the North Carolina economy, said Rep. David Price, a 4th District Democrat.

"I think the Republicans have basically said there's no deal," Price said. "We'll see. Hope springs eternal, but I think they've decided that they're going to let the ax fall."

The deadline to prevent the cuts is midnight Thursday.

Under terms of a compromise the president and Congress made in 2011 to have the nation borrow more money to avoid defaulting on its payments to its creditors, the government starting Friday would reduce its spending by $85 billion across the board over the next seven months. Cuts would total $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years.

With limited exceptions, the cuts would be made indiscriminately, with no regard to the relative importance or value of the programs affected.

The sequestration concept was inspired by the belief that the tough across-the-board cuts would force disagreeing lawmakers to compromise on a more nuanced federal budget plan. They have failed to do so.

The sequestration cuts will be devastating to military communities such as Fayetteville and North Carolina with its large number of military personnel stationed here, Sen. Kay Hagan, a Democrat, said in news conference.

She blamed partisan bickering for the loggerheads.

Spending reductions, Hagan said, will limit military training, curtail maintenance on expensive equipment and affect military readiness.

Further, "approximately 22,000 civilian employees currently at our military bases face potential furloughs and over $120 million in collective pay cuts" between March and October, she said.

The families and private businesses they patronize will suffer, Hagan said, and civilian programs will see cuts that affect teachers and children.

Hagan said she is part of a group of 20 lawmakers, 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats who are trying to find a solution.

Seventh District Rep. Mike McIntyre, a Democrat, said in a statement that the poison pill of sequestration budget cuts should never have been created.

"Our national security, jobs, education, health care, and transportation will all be negatively impacted when this measure goes into effect," McIntyre said. "We must work together to find a bipartisan solution to address this immediate issue."

McIntyre said he voted against the sequestration concept, but his statement failed to address a request that he specify what he is doing to prevent it from happening this week.

Rep. Renee Ellmers, a 2nd District Republican, voted in 2011 for the sequestration deal. Now the nation needs to prevent the cuts from happening, she said.

"We have a duty to protect our nation and economic interests through a strong military," Ellmers said in a written response to The Fayetteville Observer's query. "These cuts will have lasting damage and I continue to fight against them being enacted.

"The problem," Ellmers said, "is that President Obama is holding our military hostage in order to get the tax increases he desires and refuses to look at cutting any federal spending."

The country irresponsibly grew its debt by $5 trillion over the past five years, Ellmers said, costing billions of dollars in interest.

She said the nation could save $115 billion by preventing the improper payment of benefits to people who aren't supposed to get them, and save nearly $4 billion by cutting a program that gives people cellphones and by ending maintenance on unused or little-used property.

Ellmers called on the president to negotiate a solution instead of attacking Republicans.

Price said the Republicans should accept a proposal by the president and House Democrats for a mix of targeted spending cuts and closure of tax loopholes.

The nation has made $1.5 trillion in spending cuts in prior deals, affecting road construction, health research and other programs intended for the country's long-term benefit, Price said. And it increased revenues by $600 billion, he said.

"We're looking for a balanced solution going forward," Price said. "We know there have to be more spending cuts, and for the life of me, I can't understand why they wouldn't acknowledge there need to be more revenue adjustments."
 

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