Acting Office of Management and Budget Director Jeffrey Zients said sequestration budget cuts would likely mean hiring freezes, furloughs and staff reductions at a number of federal agencies. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
The $109 billion in sequestration budget cuts scheduled to go into effect Jan. 2 would likely mean hiring freezes, furloughs and staffing reductions at the Defense Department, FBI, Border Patrol and Transportation Security Administration, the Obama administration said Wednesday.
Acting Office of Management and Budget Director Jeffrey Zients told the House Armed Services Committee that the Federal Aviation Administration also would face “significant cuts” in its operations that ensure safe air travel, and that food safety and workplace safety inspections would be slashed.
Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said that Defense could have to impose at least a partial hiring freeze, unpaid furloughs, and layoffs of temporary employees.
Zients and Carter stressed that sequestration is a disastrous, chaotic policy — one that was designed to be so onerous that Congress would have no choice but to compromise and find a way to cut the deficit by $1.2 trillion. But the so-called supercommittee failed to reach an agreement last November, setting the government on a path toward the automatic, across-the-board budget cuts.
Zients repeatedly urged Congress to find a way — in the next five months — to pass a balanced deficit reduction plan and avert the sequestration cuts.
But while members of both parties agree that sequestration is bad policy and would likely hamstring large parts of the government, Congress appears unlikely to do anything about it. Wednesday’s hearing to examine sequestration’s effects descended into partisan squabbling.
Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif., said that Congress has about two legislative work weeks left before lawmakers leave for the election, and the prospects of getting serious work done in the post-election lame duck session are slim.
“I am frustrated with that,” McKeon said. “We have a responsibility to fix this. I’m just not very optimistic at how we’re going to go about that.”
Zients told lawmakers that “it is the job of everybody here to ensure that we never get to” the sequestration cuts. But Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas also appeared pessimistic about Congress’ ability to compromise.
“Our track record isn’t that good here,” Reyes said.
And toward the end of the hearing, Republican lawmakers and Zients began pointing fingers and accusing the opposing party of being responsible for the sequestration mess.
“The root cause of the problem here is the Republicans’ refusal to ask the top 2 percent [of taxpayers] to pay their fair share,” Zients said as Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., talked over him.
Rep. Michael Turner, R-Ohio, rapped Zients for criticizing Republicans.
“I want to commend you on the broken record of your partisanship, with respect to the fiction that this administration has a budget or a plan” for deficit reduction, Turner said. “You have no plan. We’re in August; there is not one thing on the table that we could pick up that has the support of the House or the Senate that could solve this problem that comes from the president.”