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Ron J.
Republican WI

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  • Sequester Impact

    by Senator Ron Johnson

    Posted on 2013-02-27

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    JOHNSON. Mr. President, I thank Chairwoman Mikulski for organizing this colloquy among Appropriations Subcommittee Chairs regarding the real consequences of the upcoming sequester on this Nation.

    Fortunately, America's veterans are spared from the direct impact of the sequester, as all programs funded through the Department of Veterans Affairs are exempt. Veterans hospitals and clinics will continue to operate normally, veterans benefits will be processed and paid, and other veterans services will continue uninterrupted.

    But make no mistake about it; veterans are no more immune than any other American from the collateral damage that these senseless automatic spending cuts will inflict. Bear in mind that veterans are parents and teachers, firefighters and law enforcement officers, border patrol agents and small business owners. A large number of civilian jobs at the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, among other federal agencies, are held by veterans. In fact, veterans comprise 44 percent of the Defense Department's civilian workforce. Veterans are subject to the same risk as any other government employee of being furloughed or laid off because of the sequester, and veteran-owned businesses face the same risk as any other small business of losing crucial government contracts.

    This is not some abstract inside-the beltway issue. Eighty-six percent of the Defense Department's civilian workforce resides outside of the Washington metropolitan area. In my home state of South Dakota, approximately 1,000 Defense Department civilian employees are slated to be furloughed, reducing gross pay by about $6.3 million. This loss in income will surely reverberate throughout the local economy.

    The ripple effect of the sequester on the economy and job market nationwide is particularly worrisome for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, who already face higher unemployment rates than the general population. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, veterans of these two wars are dealing with an unemployment rate of 11.7 percent, compared to a national unemployment rate of 7.9 percent. The employment picture for Iraq and Afghanistan-era women veterans is even bleaker: 17.1 percent compared to a national unemployment rate for women of 7.4 percent. Furloughs, layoffs, and civilian hiring freezes have the potential to make a bad problem far worse for these veterans.

    So yes, the VA is spared a direct hit from the budget axe triggered by the sequester, but veterans are not.

    Another impact of the sequester that will be felt across this country is funding for military construction, which is poised to lose more than $1 billion as a result of sequestration. Like other agencies, the Defense Department does not have the flexibility to choose where to cut military construction every single project planned for construction in fiscal year 2013 will be forced to take a funding cut of approximately 9 percent.

    The fiscal year 2013 program comprises more than 250 military construction projects in 42 states, the District of Columbia and overseas. As a result of sequestration, every one of those projects will have to be reassessed to determine if it can be executed at the lower funding level, or if it will need to be delayed or cancelled. The Defense Department can shift funding from one project to another through a congressional reprogramming, but that means the Department will be the sole arbiter of choosing winners and losers among the projects that Congress has already authorized. Moreover, reprogramming actions are time consuming and labor intensive, and at a time when the Department will be understaffed due to furloughs and a hiring freeze, the likelihood of delays or deferrals of military construction projects is high. Not only does this affect mission critical and quality of life projects on military installations, but it also impacts the local construction industry, and thus the local economy, in hundreds of communities throughout the Nation.

    Carpet bombing the federal budget with across-the-board spending cuts is neither wise nor prudent. It's about as smart as a surgeon performing heart surgery with an axe. There will be casualties, and veterans and military families will be among those casualties.

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