NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Opinion

April 10, 2013

Sequester cuts? Not for members of Congress

The pain from the sequester — those automatic federal spending cuts triggered because Congress can’t pass a budget — is being felt.

Hundreds of thousands of federal employees will take a pay cut, including about 750,000 at the Pentagon alone.

States are looking at closing Head Start programs for needy children.

The White House has furloughed 480 people.

Staff of members of Congress have seen their budgets cut and may face layoffs.

To name just a few effects.

But one group is curiously absent from the pain — the very group creating the mess because they aren’t doing their jobs. Members of Congress won’t take a pay cut because their pay is exempted from the sequester.

Under a Reagan-era law — when the sequester idea was first introduced — certain spending is exempt from automatic cuts, including, reasonably, Social Security, interest on the debt and Pell grants.

But it also protects the pay of members of Congress and the president. (President Obama announced he’d return 5 percent of his pay during the sequester.)

Congress could vote to cut its own pay, although by law the cut wouldn’t take effect until after the next election. Of course, there is nothing stopping all members from giving 5 percent of their pay to a charity or back to the federal treasury.

At the very least, the leadership in both chambers needs to take a cut for failing to get a budget through Congress.

The fact Congress isn’t sharing in the fiscal pain it has caused is by no means the most egregious, or costly, spending that is being continued during sequestration.

Congress passed a “stop-gap spending measure” that preserves $380 million to finish development of a missile that doesn’t work and the Pentagon says it won’t buy.

The reason for the folly is, apparently, twofold. Germany and Italy, which are helping develop the missile, pressured the U.S. to continue funding. And powerful members of Congress want to keep funding jobs at defense contractors in their districts.

Democrat Sen. Chuck Schumer — whose New York district benefits — lobbied other Democratic leaders to continue the funding.

If only Congress would work so hard to pass a budget — something it hasn’t done for four years.

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