Lawmakers Feeling Pressure to Grant Sequester Exemptions

Tuesday, 23 Apr 2013 11:29 AM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Lawmakers are being courted by companies, agencies, and other special interest groups seeking protective earmarks to avoid being affected by sequestration cuts ordered in March.

The Obama administration has already granted its own exemptions to the across-the-board cuts, reports Politico, by granting flexibility to some government agencies to decide how or even whether to implement any cuts.

The Pentagon, for example, has decided to reduce its previously announced number of furlough days for civilians from 22 to 14, and the Navy has said it may be able to skip furloughs for its civilian altogether.

The moves to get out from under the budget ax are reminding lawmakers of the old days when they pressured to deliver spending projects back in their own districts and states.

“This parochial interest nature of Congress is re-emerging in, I think, an unseemly way,” said Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

But any money cut from one program has to be made up for in other areas, meaning some programs will face even deeper cuts as the pressure builds on lawmakers and administration officials to earmark more exceptions to the sequester.

Recent events, such as the Boston bombings last week, already have lawmakers responding with promises of full funding for crucial areas like transportation and Homeland Security.

“It clearly reinforces the case to make sure all the essential functions of homeland security are fully funded,” said Indiana Sen. Dan Coats, the ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security.

Sensing an opportunity for exemptions, government meat inspectors and a military tuition program last month got reprieves after finding lawmakers to champion their causes. They also used dire warnings of food shortages and tainted food, along with warnings of soldiers who couldn't register for classes, to get their attention.

According to Politico, the soldiers' tuition group got Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe, Oklahoma and Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina to help protect the tuition program.

Meatpackers also received help from Arkansas Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor and Missouri Republican Sen. Roy Blunt to help keep meat inspectors working.

“When you were furloughing the meat inspectors, you were furloughing a whole plant. I think that’s true. We had the facts to back it up,” said Pryor.

Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, the ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he believes lawmakers are right to reexamine the sequester cuts to "meritorious programs" are not be hit with "the meat ax." He said lawmakers need to ask, "What is essential to America?" as they deal with the pressures to reverse spending cuts that are already in the works.

Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, agrees that some programs have to be saved. But he maintains the sequester should be reversed in its entirety not bit by bit.

"Otherwise, it’s just a race to see who’s got more political weight in the process," he said.

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