Lawmakers, others looking at long-term sequestration effects
On the last day to avoid sequestration Friday, few lawmakers were bracing for any major impacts from fedral budget cuts on day one.
Rather, they were holding out hope that Congress could come to an agreement. If that doesn't happen, they said, the cuts do not all go into effect immediately and the negative consequences will build over time.
"The plain fact is, very little will happen on day one," U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said Friday. "The arbitrary across-the-board spending cuts will not be an immediate shutdown or shock wave, but rather a cascading and building effect on important services — most especially on our economy.
"My major concern is that the dysfunction in D.C. threatens to thrust us back into an economic downturn."
A minority in the House of Representatives, led by Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, Blumenthal said, "applauded" sequestration and are "gambling with our economic future."
The Budget Control Act, which includes the automatic spending cuts commonly referred to as sequestration, required President Barack Obama to issue the order to cut spending by $85 billion this fiscal year by the end of the day Friday if no agreement had been reached.
The government is also operating on a continuing resolution, which keeps funding at last year's levels. The resolution expires March 27, but Congress could extend it for the rest of the fiscal year.
"Today is a disappointing day, but because sequestration's cuts will be implemented gradually, there's still time for cooler heads to prevail," said U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District. " … I continue to call for a balanced and bipartisan approach to deficit reduction that would prevent these sweeping, mindless cuts that will affect every American."
Connecticut may see a reduction in federal funding of nearly $60 million, according to the state Office of Fiscal Analysis, including a $9 million cut to primary and secondary education. Most entitlement programs are exempt.
State Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said he was concerned about the impact on the state and frustrated by the lack of cooperation in Washington. "The amount of money they're talking about in terms of the federal budget — and again we're talking about a very small decrease in the increase in spending — you'd think they'd be able to solve in an afternoon meeting," he said.
State House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, said he's working with U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, to clarify the impacts. Sharkey said he was unsure whether the state would have money to fill the gap.
"If this is a minor seven- or 10-day phenomenon and then they wake up and act like adults and get this done, then I'm not sure the impact will be that great and we'll have to actually respond," Sharkey said. "We'll have to see how Washington behaves over the course of the next couple of weeks."
After this year, sequestration requires $109 billion in annual cuts to reach $1.2 trillion in spending reductions over 10 years. Half the cuts are slated to come from defense.
The budget for the Connecticut National Guard could be cut by $30 million. The accounts for training and for equipment and facilities maintenance would be hardest hit. The Guard notified 576 full-time civilian military technicians they could be furloughed starting in April.
"It's not mass hysteria, it's not chaos," Col. John Whitford, the Guard's spokesman, said Friday. "If sequestration goes through, the impact on us would not be felt right away. As things go further, then you'd start to feel the impact."
Whitford said he's worried that over time the cuts could degrade the Guard's readiness. He said the Guard is planning for the worst and hoping for the best.
"We're guardedly optimistic and we hope it works out," he said. "I think all of us, all of the branches, we're watching this very, very closely."
Electric Boat is facing the possible postponement or cancellation of contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars to repair two submarines and build a second attack submarine in 2014. EB spokesman Robert Hamilton said executives there are waiting to hear firm details from the Navy.
Blumenthal said he is "absolutely resolved" to build two submarines a year, including in 2014, because they are vital to national security.
At the Naval Submarine Base in Groton, about 1,300 workers could be furloughed, and there may be deep cuts in funding for maintenance and upkeep. About 100 civilians who work on the staff at Submarine Group Two and at the commands overseen by the group were told about the furlough, said Lt. Cmdr. Jennifer Cragg, spokeswoman for the group.
At this time, sequestration is not expected to affect local submarine operations, Cragg said.
The Coast Guard has no plans to furlough civilian employees. The U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London plans to maintain its activities and programs, although some may be at reduced levels.
Rear Adm. Sandra L. Stosz, the academy's superintendent, said the Coast Guard has "recognized the value of the academy and made every effort to preserve our ability to educate and train the next generation."
"I'm thankful for the support," Stosz said, adding that the academy would continue "to be your steady, trusted Coast Guard presence."
The State Department has canceled "Passport Day in the USA" scheduled for March 9 due to sequestration. Passport application acceptance facilities nationwide, including the Connecticut Passport Agency, will not be open that day for special Saturday services.
Day staff writer Johanna Somers contributed to this report.
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