- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Here we are, Day 6 of the sequester, and bracing for the impact. It’s a bit like knowing that an earthquake has hit and waiting for the tsunami to roll in.
But this was not an act of God. It was an act of Congress. And Congress has the power at any time to replace these deep, across-the-board budget cuts.
There is no indication, however, that Congress is close to doing so.
And so in a matter of weeks, it appears, the wave will hit the region. Beginning in April, civilian federal employees at the local military bases likely will be working 32 hours a week instead of 40, and their paychecks will be cut by 20 percent. Defense contracting firms are facing similar cuts, and the ripples will reach out to every corner of the local economy. In Maryland alone, there are roughly 46,000 Department of Defense employees. It is estimated that their furloughs would mean a loss of $353.7 million in pay.
How long this will go on and how tough it will be for these thousands of families cannot be predicted.
Again, Congress could replace the sequester at any time. It is possible that after a handful of unpaid furlough days, like those ordered for state employees and others during the height of the recession, paychecks could be restored.
But no one here can count on that. In fact, people can count on very little from the federal government they work for directly or under contract.
It’s true that the region has benefitted enormously from the federal money that has come our way for decades. This has become a prosperous community funded by other people’s tax dollars.
And with two wars winding down and the federal budget drowning in red ink, it is inevitable that military spending will continue to reduce and the defense industry here will contract. That was happening already, before the sequester.
But it shouldn’t be happening in this irrational, harmful way. The civilians who work in support of the military, often in difficult and demanding jobs, and not always for a great deal of money, deserve better.
We understand that the government can’t solve everyone’s problems. But the least we can expect is that Congress doesn’t willfully create new ones.