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Sequestration Fixes Counterproductive, Congressional Democrats Say

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WASHINGTON -- Piecemeal efforts to ease the impact of federal sequestration budget cuts are counterproductive and may end up costing taxpayers more, according to a report from congressional Democrats.

The report, put together by Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee and their ranking member, Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), is the third installment in a series outlining the impact of sequester-related cuts. The report, provided to The Huffington Post in advance of its Wednesday release, is blunt, arguing that Congress has made the impact of sequestration worse by adjusting individual parts, rather than pursuing a larger fix.

"A few departments and agencies have found ways to mitigate some very specific impacts of sequestration," the authors wrote. "However, these strategies merely replace one set of cuts with cuts to other parts of the same agency. All will have an impact, and nearly all will have to be made up with future appropriations."

"Piecemeal efforts to manage sequestration are counterproductive," the report concluded. "They often require underfunding long-term needs to mitigate short-term pain. In many instances, the annual savings mask increased longer-term costs."

To illustrate this point, the Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee looked at the efforts made by Congress to end the furloughing of air traffic controllers shortly after complaints surfaced over flight delays. While the Federal Aviation Administration was granted flexibility to end those furloughs, it came "at the expense of another priority," the report said. In this case, the FAA can no longer fund construction projects with discretionary funds. Officials estimated the costs of congestion and delays at airports will exceed $34 billion by 2020.

Food safety inspectors were also spared the hit of sequestration. But here too, congressional Democrats pointed out that the cost was only moved elsewhere, with funding taking the hit for U.S. Department of Agriculture building maintenance and for a program to upgrade school kitchen equipment.

"Again, sequestration forced a difficult sacrifice of long-term necessities to avoid short-term pain," the report concluded.

Much of the 26-page report is devoted not to the fixes made to sequestration, but to the impacts to come. Under the sequester, $85 billion will be cut this fiscal year, and an estimated $1 trillion will be cut over the next decade.

The report predicted that taxpayers may end up paying more because of the indiscriminate and shortsighted nature of the cuts.

Take, for instance, the $50 million reduced from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s geostationary weather satellite program. "The cut will cause a 3-6 month satellite launch delay," the report said. "The delay, as with any construction delay, ends up raising the cost to taxpayers over the next few years, in this case by up to $200 million."

Then there is the case of federal public defenders, facing steep reductions in funding.

"Reductions in the Federal Defender Services account actually cost the taxpayer money in the form of private attorneys," the report said. "If the Federal Defender cannot accept a case due to sequestration (as many are currently experiencing), representation is provided by private panel attorneys, who are paid at a higher cost than Federal Defenders."

Those dreaded flight delays, the authors noted, may still end up a reality. Sequestration cuts to the Transportation Security Administration "may not currently impact wait times for travelers moving through our nation’s airports, but TSA anticipates an increase in the number of delays during the peak summer travel months," the report said.

Other highlights in the report:

  • Research projects will feel the budget cuts, with the National Institutes of Health estimating that it will support 1,357 fewer grants in fiscal 2013 than in fiscal 2012.
  • The Department of Energy will face challenges "remediating the contamination from the nation’s nuclear weapons development effort" because of a $430 million cut.
  • Rural rental assistance for those in need will be hit, with an estimated 15,000 aid recipients expected to get less while an estimated 70,000 children "will lose access to Head Start and Early Head Start."
  • The Forest Service will enter the 2013 firefighting season with 500 fewer firefighters.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will place fewer vaccines, drugs and supplies into the national stockpile used for "countermeasures needed to respond to bioterrorist attacks."

Sequestration, the report ominously concluded, may hamper the Department of Defense in confronting pressing national security issues.

"In total," the report said, "DoD estimates the shortfall caused by sequestration in the operation and maintenance accounts is $22 billion for the remainder of FY 2013. The significance of degraded readiness is that units, other than those deploying to Afghanistan (e.g., units that may respond to crises in Syria, Iran or the Korean Peninsula), will not have completed the training necessary to conduct the full range of assigned tasks."

Read the report: sequestration

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