Sequester Cuts Hit Federal Workers; Members of Congress Exempt

Tuesday, 02 Apr 2013 11:43 AM

By David Yonkman, Washington Correspondent

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Hundreds of thousands of federal employees are facing furloughs and pay cuts — including at the White House and Pentagon — as federal agencies began to deal with across-the-board spending cuts.

The $85 billion in spending reductions became law last month as Congress couldn’t reach a deal to forestall the sequester, although salaries of the members remain unaffected by the cuts.

The White House announced that 480 staffers at the Office of Management and Budget are among executive branch employees who have received furlough notices due to the sequester, Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters at a briefing on Monday.

“As the impact of the sequester progresses … additional furloughs, as well as pay cuts, remain possibilities for additional White House employees,” Carney said.

Carney said that the White House has scaled back hiring, delayed filling open positions, dialed back equipment and supply purchases, cut staff travel, and is reviewing contracts “to identify opportunities to reduce costs, improve efficiencies without undermining their core mission.”

At the Pentagon, a Defense Department official said on Monday that it would not extend civilian furloughs beyond September and would instead explore other options to curb spending to help pay off the department’s $41 billion share of the sequestration, The Hill reports.

“We will look for other options. They may not be pleasant, and they may force us into some difficult choices. But we definitely don’t want to repeat what we’re doing now,” Pentagon Comptroller Bob Hale said.

Several agencies are rethinking their strategy for making cuts after President Barack Obama signed an appropriations bill last week that allowed for flexibility by departments in implementing cost savings.

Customs and Border Protection, part of the Department of Homeland Security, this week decided to postpone unpaid furlough days and the elimination of overtime for border patrol agents.

The Justice Department originally told staffers they would have 22 furlough days, but shifted the number last week to 14. At the time, Attorney General Eric Holder told staffers he was postponing for several weeks any decision about department furloughs.

“The situation with the budget has been very fluid,” Holder said in his staff memo, The Washington Post reported.

Congressional offices are reducing budgets and cutting staff, but the salaries of legislators remain intact despite repeated attempts to change the law.

Most recently, Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis of Florida and Democratic Rep. Ami Bera of California have proposed a bill that would apply an 8.2 percent cut to member’s pay, starting in the next session of Congress.

“Much has been said about sequestration, but few have mentioned that the pay of members of Congress is exempted,” DeSantis said in a recent press release.

“When members exempt themselves from the operation of the law, it’s not only unfair, but it also violates a core principle of republican government,” DeSantis said. “That is why I am introducing legislation to reduce pay for members of Congress at the first moment it is constitutionally permissible.”

The delay reflects a hurdle posed by the 27th Amendment to the Constitution, which prevents lawmakers from changing their pay until the next Congress, which means no change could be introduced until January 2015.

The amendment, enacted in 1992, more than 200 years after it was first submitted to the states for ratification, is widely seen as a means to prevent Congress from moving too quickly to give itself a raise, but because of the sequester it prevents Congress from quickly cutting its pay.


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