7/26/2013 4:45 PM ET|
Federal workers organize to block the sequester
About 6,000 employees have filed appeals with the Merit Systems Protection Board to block furloughs or recover lost pay that is resulting from the sequester.
As Congress slips closer to a second round of across-the-board budget cuts and government furloughs this fall, federal workers have begun to fight back.
With nearly one in two federal workers facing enforced unpaid leaves of absence to help meet stringent deficit reduction mandated by sequestration, about 6,000 employees have filed appeals with the Merit Systems Protection Board to block the furloughs or recover lost pay. Meanwhile, labor unions are galvanizing public employees across the country to fight the sequester and are taking their case to Capitol Hill.
During a hearing Tuesday morning before the Senate Budget Committee, Jennifer-Cari Green, a secretary at the Madigan Army Medical Center in Washington State and the single mother of a six-year-old son, said that she had struggled to make ends meet under a three-year military pay freeze even before the sequester hit. Now she calculates that her take-home pay will drop from $1,477 a month to $1,008 through the end of September (the end of the fiscal year) as she is forced to take 11 days of furlough -- a 32% reduction over two weeks, or a 4.5% annual reduction.
"I live without luxuries, I don't have cable in my home, I don't go get my nails done, eat out frequently or do any of the things people generally think they will have to cut back on whenever times are tough," said Green, a member of Local 1502 of the American Federation of Government Employees in Tacoma. "I often hear people talk about 'tightening your belt,' but I have very few options available to me."
Instead, she said, she is falling dangerously close to the poverty line, even while she makes too much to qualify for food stamps or free school lunches for her son.
Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, an ardent foe of sequestration, said that Green's dilemma is emblematic of the hardships being imposed by mindless, across the board cuts in defense and domestic discretionary spending that both Democrats and Republicans voted for believing a better budget bargain would emerge.
That bargain never happened.
"At a time when too many Americans are still struggling to find work, civilian defense employees are being furloughed, and small businesses are struggling to stay afloat, our economic recovery and our military preparedness is suffering," she said.
"While I believe there are responsible spending cuts to be made in defense programs," she added, "the current across-the-board cuts and future arbitrary spending reductions over the next eight years as part of sequestration are not the answer."
Short of a miraculous turn-around by lawmakers and the administration Congress appears to be sliding toward a second year of sequestration -- meaning the slashed budgets of the current fiscal year will soon receive an equally unpopular sequel. The same political gridlock that set off the decade-long, $1.2 trillion sequestration last fall has only worsened in recent months. House Republicans and Senate Democrats have proven incapable of agreeing to the basic contours for a fiscal 2014 budget. Nor can they work together on immigration reform, farm legislation and food stamps.
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., ridiculed the sequester as "stupidity on steroids" on Tuesday because it leaves most departments and agencies with little leeway to find savings without cutting into the bone of government programs or forcing temporary unpaid layoffs.
Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the Budget Committee, agreed the sequester is not the ideal way to go about cutting spending. But he insisted that "the matter that we are facing today has been made substantially worse" by the fact that President Obama prevented his defense chiefs from doing substantial advanced planning to gradually phase in the inevitable cuts."
"And I've heard from many people that the furloughs that may be necessary to some degree could have been avoided in many instances, but it was determined [by the White House] that to do the furloughs . . . was a way to politically drive the issue," Sessions said.
Obama has said repeatedly he opposes sequestration and has urged Republicans to work with him and the Democrats to find a suitable alternative approach. Obama criticized the sequester Wednesday when he kicked off a series of economic addresses at Knox College, in Galesburg, Ohio.
The president will use campaign style events to refocus attention on the economy and some of his ideas for improving the job market that have been largely ignored by Republican lawmakers.
William Galston, a budget expert with the Brookings Institution and one time policy adviser to former President Bill Clinton, said recently, "I don't see a viable majority in the two houses of Congress in favor of getting out of [the sequester] in a way that the president would accept."
Sequestration has had serious impact on some government employees and recipients of federal aid -- particularly Hispanic and black families who have seen dramatic cutbacks or outright elimination of Head Start programs for their young children.
However, there is little evidence that the reductions have undercut the economic recovery, as some predicted. In fact, the economy is expected to improve as the spending reductions mount.
Beginning July 8, about 650,000 Defense workers took the first of 11 furlough days required as part of the $85 billion in budget cuts across the board this year. The AFGE and other unions are holding workshops across the country to instruct members how to file appeals that seek to cancel the furloughs and award back pay, according to the Washington Post.
In addition to Defense Department employees, workers have filed appeals from the Internal Revenue Service, the departments of Housing and Urban Development, Homeland Security and the Interior, as well as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Environmental Protection Agency. In all, about 775,000 federal workers face furloughs of four to 15 days before the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30.
Congressional leaders and the administration could still surprise the nation and scratch out a deal before Oct. 1 that sets aside the sequester and reaches an accommodation on next year's spending levels. But any compromise would likely have to preserve more than $1 trillion worth of deficit savings over 10 years. The government can still survive on ad hoc measures that raise the debt ceiling on a short-term basis, while enabling the White House to blunt the impact of sequestration.
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Congress needs to take a 40% pay cut. Then they might figure out how a furlough affects federal employees. They cancelled firework shows for many military bases, but the DC show was just fine.
It's time for Congress to learn that we did not elect 535 kings to be supported all their life.
Don't even get me started on government excess.
1. Obama opposes the sequester? He signed the bill.
2. Who cares about Head Start. Its been proven ineffective.
3. Mark ex FAA is correct. Congress gets hefty pensions, gigantic salary and expense accounts, hefty health insurance (and oh by the way) is exempt from ObamaCare.
4. How about everyone start voting for Libertarian candidates, or at least Tea Party
candidates and put the fear into Dems and Rinos. Then we'll start to see some progress.
5. I'm in the same boat as other middle class workers. Coupled with pay cuts and inflation (not the phony inflation numbers the feds publish), I'm at about a 30% decrease from 4 to 5 years ago. And I'm not in a union, so you can't blame that.
Anoter thing-the IRS Treasury Union has asked for an exemption from Abamacare-HA, HA,HA,
Wonder what they dont like about it? HA, HA, HA
With an estimated 20% of the entire federal budget going to waste, fraud, and abuse, multimillion $ vacations disguised as fact finding trips, billions doled out to our enemies, all these people are looking in the wrong direction. Another example of unions believing they should be exempt from lifes uncertainties.
The only place they need to lean on is the administration.
The number of employees in government agencies is an unstainable sham and all these agencies should have a plan in place to reduce their numbers through attrition and retirements- no new hiring.
With a 3 trillion $ budget, there is easily $600 billion/yr disappearing into the deep dark hole of government ineptitude- so much money they treat it as having no value-after all, its our money, not theirs, makes it easier to waste.
These government workers should be grateful that they have work and make that amount of money. I am a non-union worker and since January 2013 My work hours have shrunk from 33 hours to 12.and for 3 month's straight, I only got 8 hours a week. How does one survive on $86.00 dollars ? Not all of us have health benefits, great work hours as these government workers have. I don't want to sound mean or anything but They need to realize that there are so many more people in this country who are struggling to pay their bills,keep their homes and find a job.
I just read an article about 1000+ jobs being added to the government ranging from 70k per year to 130k per year. . .
Sorry, but 75% of these workers shouldn't be employed by a government welfare program which is what most are receiving as they don't do anything meaningful except drain the taxpayer's wallet. yEah they pay taxes too, but you know what? If I received a $100K a year for doing nothing, I would pay taxes too!
Any accountant worth his weight will tell you to look at the largest line items of any budget where to make cuts. Government labor, especially in a big Government that has run amok, is up there on taxpayer money. Time for the freeloaders to actually go out and find a real job and do some real work.
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