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The Sequester

Automatic spending cuts are about to be triggered, unless congress does something about it.

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WASHINGTON (CNN)-

The nation’s best military fliers have had their wings clipped, thanks to the forced spending cuts imposed on the federal government this year.

The U.S. Navy on Tuesday announced it was canceling all the air shows its Blue Angels Flight Demonstration Squadron had scheduled for the rest of the year. The Navy action follows the Air Force’s April 1 announcement that its Thunderbirds team would not perform again this year.

“Recognizing budget realities, current Defense policy states that outreach events can only be supported with local assets at no cost to the government,” said a statement Tuesday from the office of the Commander Naval Air Forces in San Diego. “This is one of many steps the Navy is taking to ensure resources are in place to support forces operating forward now and those training to relieve them.”

The Navy, Air Force and the rest of the federal government must deal with $85 billion in cuts for the rest of fiscal year 2013, which ends September 30, that were mandated by a 2011 agreement by Congress that raised the federal debt ceiling.

The cuts targeted agencies and programs dear to Democrats, such as education, and also went after Republican priorities, including the military.

The Air Force had said earlier this year that air shows can cost bases $100,000.

More than two dozen Thunderbirds performances scheduled for the rest of this year were cut, including an Asian tour.

The Blue Angels had 32 performances left this year. However, several of those, including one originally scheduled for this coming weekend at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi in Texas, had been canceled with the expectation that the budget cuts would force the Navy’s hand.

The Navy team had also canceled a performance set for MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, last weekend.

The next performance still on the schedule would have been at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, on May 22, part of the graduation festivities at the academy.

The Navy said the Blue Angels will continue to train at their base in Pensacola, Florida, for when the budget crunch ends.

“The Navy believes there is value in demonstrating the professionalism and capabilities of our Navy and Marine Corps Naval Aviation team, thus inspiring future generations of Sailors and Marines. The Navy intends to continue aerial demonstrations in the future as the budget situation permits,” the service’s statement said.

By Brad Lendon

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bera

File Photo of Rep. Ami Bera

SACRAMENTO-

Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, has announced he’s donating a portion of his salary to organizations affected by sequestration cuts.

“Nobody’s arguing that we need to deal with the deficit… but let`s not do it on the backs of our most vulnerable,” Bera said Wednesday.

This week, Sacramento’s chapter of Meals on Wheels received the first check. In the coming months, other organizations will benefit from the donation amounting to almost $1,200.

By donating a portion of his $174,000 congressional salary, Bera says he hopes to call attention to the effects of the sequestration cuts and help organizations offset their losses.

SACRAMENTO-

The effects will be nationwide to the Army’s decision to cut tuition funding for soldiers and reservists.

The Army announced Friday that servicemembers who are already enrolled in courses will receive their education benefits, but they will not be paying for any new enrollees.

Army officials state that sequestration cuts have forced them to trim education benefits.

Student Veterans of American said in a statement, “In this fiscal climate, I understand that tough funding decisions must be made. However, it is utterly unacceptable that the first casualties of Congress’ inability to act are education benefits for servicemembers.”

Obama talks with reporters in White House briefing roomWASHINGTON D.C.-

Politics trumped progress on Friday as President Barack Obama and Republican leaders traded blame for $85 billion in forced spending cuts after they failed to come up with a compromise to avert the harshest impacts.

The president signed an order required by law that set in motion the automatic, government-wide cuts.

Obama and congressional leaders from both parties met for about 45 minutes at the White House, but no agreement emerged to avert the cuts that both sides oppose.

After weeks of campaign-style events intended to inspire public outrage over the cuts, Obama sought to temper his description of their impact while making clear he thinks Republican intransigence prevented a deal to avoid the economic harm they’ll cause.

“We will get through this,” he told reporters. “This is not going to be an apocalypse as some people have said. It’s just dumb and it’s going to hurt.”

In a sign of the potential impact, the Department of Justice sent furlough notices to employees that warned they may be forced to take days off without pay in coming months.

Similar furloughs, as well as reduced services, were expected at other agencies if the cuts don’t get replaced or eliminated. Military leaders have warned of impaired readiness of U.S. forces.

However, the full impact of the cuts weren’t expected until April at the earliest.

The cuts amount to roughly 9% for a broad range of non-defense programs and 13% for the Pentagon over the rest of the current fiscal year, which ends on September 30.

They were included in a 2011 deal to raise the federal borrowing limit as an unacceptable outcome if Congress failed to agree on a comprehensive deficit reduction plan.

However, election-year politics stymied progress on such a deal, leading to the situation Friday in which both sides acknowledged being unable to prevent something neither wanted.

“There are smarter ways to cut spending,” said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, after the meeting with Obama.

Boehner repeated his past assertion that the GOP-led House has offered proposals to replace the forced spending cuts while the Democratic-led Senate has not, as well as his party’s opposition to any increased tax revenue to offset the forced spending cuts.

Others who also took part in the White House gathering were Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

In the White House briefing room, Obama told reporters that Republicans in Congress “allowed these cuts to happen because they refuse to budge on closing a single wasteful (tax) loophole to help reduce the deficit.”

“As recently as yesterday, they decided to protect special interest tax breaks for the well off and the well connected and they think that that’s apparently more important than protecting our military or middle class families from the pain of these cuts,” Obama said.

He was referring to a procedural vote on Thursday in which Senate Republicans blocked a Democratic proposal that called for eliminating some tax loopholes as part of a package with spending cuts.

Boehner and Republicans say the president and Democrats have yet to propose a serious plan to reduce spending, including costly entitlement programs, on a scale necessary to bring chronic federal deficits and debt under control.

Both Obama and Boehner foreshadowed the next major spending showdown – a March 27 deadline for Congress to authorize funding to keep the government running for the rest of the fiscal year.

Boehner told reporters that the House will take up a measure next week to authorize federal funding beyond that deadline.

“The president and leaders agreed legislation should be enacted this month to prevent a government shutdown while we continue to work on a solution to replace the” forced spending cuts, said a statement by Boehner’s office.

Although the funding measure is unconnected to the spending cuts, Obama indicated he was open to a broader agreement that would resolve both issues.

“I do know that there are Republicans in Congress who privately, at least, say that they would rather close tax loopholes then let these cuts go through,” said Obama in response to questions from reporters.

“… In the coming days and the coming weeks, I’m going to keeping on reaching out to them — both individually and as groups of senators or members of the House — and say to them, ‘Let’s fix this, not just for a month or two, but for years to come,’ because the greatest nation on Earth does not conduct its business in month-to-month increments or by careening from crisis to crisis,” Obama said.

By Jessica Yellin and Tom Cohen

CNN’s Dana Bash, Deirdre Walsh, Ted Barrett and Terry Frieden contributed to this report.

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SACRAMENTO-

US immigration officials say the sequester will force them to release low-level offenders in their custody, and that could have an impact on Sacramento.

Alison Pennington, an immigration attorney with the Asian Law Caucus in San Francisco, wonders why the immigrants were held in the first place. She says if those being detained by the government are not considered a risk to the public, they should have been released before the cuts became an issue.

“There are all these people that are remaining detained despite the fact that they’re non-violent. Then, when all the sudden there’s a budget issue, they’re released,” Pennington said.

In Sacramento, US immigration officials pay more than $150 a day to house immigrants placed in dentation. Advocates for undocumented immigrants are waiting to see if releasing low-level detainees becomes a trend in Sacramento.

The Asian Law Caucus is convinced the looming sequester led to the release of one of their clients earlier this week.

STOCKTON–

If Congress can’t make a decision, the price of beef could go up by Friday.

“This isn’t funny. Beef is not lobster” says one Stockton mom. “If they drive the prices up, how will we feed our children?”

They’ll be deciding on an $85 billion  spending cut that would give furloughs to meat packing workers, and possibly  drive the price of meat up by as much as 10% by the summer.

Civilian Contractor deployed in Afghanistan

Civilian contractor working in Afghanistan. (Courtesy CNN)

(CNN) — Nearly 800,000 civilian workers would be forced to take one day of leave per week without pay if automatic spending cuts go into effect as scheduled on March 1, the Defense Department told Congress on Wednesday morning.

The furloughs would start in the last week of April and last for 22 weeks, according to the Pentagon plan.

The Pentagon’s plan is in response to the looming mandatory, across-the-board federal budget cuts known as sequestration. The cuts, mandated by a 2011 agreement to raise the federal debt ceiling, will take effect unless lawmakers come up with another deficit reduction plan.

The workers who would be furloughed could include office staff, aircraft and ship maintenance workers, schoolteachers and medical staff.

Under federal law, the Pentagon is obligated to notify Congress of furloughs 45 days before they go into effect, and the workers 30 days before they are furloughed.

The military services and other defense agencies will have to maintain at least minimum staffing for the “safety of property and safety of life,” Defense Department spokeswoman Lt. Col. Elizabeth Robbins said. That means, for example, a military base would have to maintain a minimum force of security personnel.

Similarly, military hospitals must have enough medical staff to provide services to active-duty personnel, including the wounded.

Another crucial service is Defense Department-run schools. Enough teaching staff, including special education teachers, will have to remain on the job for the schools to remain accredited and for there to be a credible full school year of education.

Robbins said these issues will be resolved in the coming days as various elements of the department submit their specific plans and apply for waivers of personnel they believe must be kept on the job.

The initial plans for across-the-board furloughs do not distinguish between essential and nonessential personnel. That will have to come through waivers approved by the Pentagon, Robbins said.

Furloughed personnel would not be allowed to work from home. For now, no decision has been made about whether work cell phones, digital devices and laptop computers would be confiscated for those days.

Health care benefits would be maintained, Robbins said.

 

 

By Barbara Starr

CNN Pentagon Correspondent

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moneyrollWASHINGTON, D.C. (CNN)-

On a typical Monday morning, lines of travelers heading toward the security checkpoint at Washington’s Reagan National Airport snake past a sign that reads: “Not much longer. 25 min. approximately from this point.”

But wait times could lengthen if millions of dollars in mandated spending cuts force the Transportation Security Administration to trim the number of agents that screen passengers and cargo for bombs, guns and other prohibited items.

From military training to educational grants to border patrols to hurricane relief, federal agencies face $85 billion in automatic, government-wide spending cuts this year. It was part of a $1.2 trillion deal struck by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama in 2011 to extend U.S. borrowing authority and cut the deficit.

That budget measure — a kind of fiscal doomsday device called sequestration — was extended for two months this year already. Unless Congress and the president reach a deal to avert them, those spending cuts come due on March 1. Federal agencies are busy trying to find ways to minimize the impact and delay immediate reductions.

Lawmakers are wringing their hands with forecasts of doom and gloom, all the while playing a game of political chicken. Democrats, who offered their own plan Thursday, want to replace the automatic cuts with a mix of tax increases and more gradual spending cuts. Republicans want to replace it solely with other spending cuts.

Then there are those who may be willing to bring the hammer down and let the cuts occur, hinting that a dramatic curtailment in spending is exactly what the government needs to ease its multi-trillion-dollar debt.

“Tea party people are saying the sequester is a pittance,” Sen. Rand Paul, a leader of the tea party faction of the Republican party, told CNN’s Candy Crowley. “It’s just very much the beginning. $1 trillion? We’re going to increase spending by $9 trillion. So even with the sequester, spending goes up by $7-or-$8 trillion over the next several years. We’re not even getting close to scratching the surface of the problem.”

Still, caught in the middle are thousands of U.S. military members, teachers and federal workers who are at the backbone of government’s basic ability to function.

Cuts could hit education, the IRS, border patrols

In education, those cuts could mean $725 million less for a program that allocates funding to districts and schools with high percentages of lower income students, Education Secretary Arne Duncan told lawmakers Thursday.

It also could mean cutting funding to 70,000 low-income children who rely on Head Start for early childhood education programs. It might mean fewer teachers and staff, larger class sizes, less tutoring and higher unemployment, Duncan said, adding that he considered such cuts “morally indefensible.”

“The most vulnerable students will be hurt the most,” Duncan said.

Duncan, along with Office of Management and Budget Federal Controller Daniel Werfel, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan and Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee on the impact of the proposed cuts.

Earlier this week, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano sent a letter to lawmakers saying sequester cuts could mean a potential cut in border patrol agents; difficulties for Immigration and Customs Enforcement in sustaining current detention and removal operations; increased passenger wait times at airports; reduced Federal Emergency Management Agency funding: furloughs, and more.

Donovan testified that Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts, the Federal Housing Administration’s ability to process loans and tens of thousands of jobs could all be affected.

Air Force bases cancel air shows

Officials at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia and Luke Air Force Base in Arizona on Friday canceled their upcoming air shows, citing both budgetary pressures and the expected consequences of sequestration.

“I cannot in good conscience spend some of our limited resources to host an open house while the Defense Department considers potential civilian furloughs,” said Brig. Gen. Michael Rothstein, 56th Fighter Wing commander at Luke. The open house and air show was scheduled for March 16 and 17.

A statement from the base said officials were taking other money-saving steps, such as deferring non-mission-critical repairs and supply purchases and significantly reducing flying not directly related to pilot training.

“The Air Force has to consider the fiscal challenges affecting the Department of Defense and the nation,” said Col. Korvin Auch, 633rd Air Base Wing commander at Langley. “We’re taking prudent steps now in order to be good stewards of taxpayer resources while focusing on maintaining readiness.”

Sequester may be inevitable

Despite varying efforts to come up with a solution to avert sequester, some leaders are acknowledging the cuts may be inevitable.

“It is pretty clear to me that the sequester is going to go into effect,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters Tuesday.

In the last Congress, the GOP-led House passed the same measure twice to replace the across-the-board cuts with another set of federal reductions. But that bill went nowhere in the Democratic controlled Senate.

The $110 billion measure proposed Thursday by Senate Democrats calls for replacing the sequester with a combination of increased tax revenue from millionaires, ending agriculture subsidies and reducing defense spending after the war in Afghanistan ends.

But congressional Republicans have made clear any tax increases to avoid the sequester are a non-starter.

House Speaker John Boehner criticized the cuts, even though they were part of the 2011 debt-ceiling proposal he brokered. He has worked to pin the blame for them on Democrats.

“The sequester is bad policy. It’s taking a meat ax approach to cutting government spending. That’s why the president ought to be forthcoming with a plan to replace his own sequester,” Boehner said.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta put it a bit more bluntly.

“For those of you who have ever seen (the movie) ‘Blazing Saddles,’ it is the scene of the sheriff putting the gun to his head in order to establish law and order,” Panetta said in a speech at Georgetown University. “That is sequestration.”

By Halimah Abdullah, Sudip Bhattacharya, Jim Acosta, Ted Barrett, Tom Cohen, Jeanne Sahadi, Matt Snith and Deirdre Walsh

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