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Sequester in 2014 will be worse, report warns

Dec. 1, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
By SEAN REILLY   |   Comments

When the first round of sequester-related budget cuts hit in March, agencies sought help from Congress, juggled funds and resorted to bookkeeping gimmicks to cushion the impact.

Those options will be harder to come by if a second round of sequester cuts strikes early next year, a liberal-leaning think tank warns in a new report. Agencies implemented the fiscal 2013 sequester on the assumption that it was “a short-term glitch” that Congress would soon fix, the Center for American Progress analysis said.

But if annual sequesters become the new normal, “all of those quick fixes will have only made things worse for the American people,” the report added.

In fiscal 2013, for example, Congress let the Justice Department apply more than $300 million in expired funds toward its share of the sequester, even though that money couldn’t be spent anyway, the analysis said. That won’t be possible this time around.

At the FBI, all employees could be furloughed for somewhere between 10 and 15 days, Reynaldo Tariche, president of the FBI Agents Association, said in an interview last week citing information from bureau management.

Similarly, lawmakers halted furloughs of air traffic controllers by raiding a grant fund for airport improvements. But “airport infrastructure needs are piling up and Congress will eventually have to pay the bill,” according to the report.

And the Defense Department cut the number of civilian employee furlough days from the 22 originally planned to six by imposing a hiring freeze, laying off temporary workers, and sharply cutting money for training, maintenance and new equipment buys. Those kinds of reductions “cannot continue for long,” according to the report.

The report was written by Harry Stein, who previously worked as an aide to former Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., and is the center’s associate director for fiscal policy.

The 2013 across-the-board sequester was required under the Budget Control Act after lawmakers deadlocked on a long-term path for trimming $1.2 trillion from future deficits.

But it was only the first in a yearly series that will run through 2021, unless lawmakers and the White House agree on another strategy.

The second round of cuts is likely to hit in January, around the same time that a stopgap continuing resolution expires. That CR generally keeps agency spending at 2013 post-sequester spending levels; it also doesn’t account for a 1 percent pay raise set to take effect next month that will add to agency expenses.

While a House-Senate budget committee is striving to come up with a full-year spending package that could avert another sequester, a deal currently appears far off.

Under the deal that ended October’s partial government shutdown, the committee has a mid-December deadline to reach agreement.

Already, however, House Republicans are planning for a possible three-month extension of the CR, said Jenny Mattingley, director of government affairs for the Senior Executives Association.

And although congressional appropriators want the joint committee to come up with a top-line 2014 budget number by Dec. 2, that would be “a minor miracle,” Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, said in an interview on MSNBC last week.

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