Sequestration doesn't generate high marks.
Not from Indiana's two U.S. senators or U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski, anyway.
That said, prospects to replace the budget-reduction scheme with something else seem to have an unclear, iffy future, judging by the response from the three lawmakers.
-- Jittery, uncertain, making do: Elkhart County agencies adjust to sequestration
-- Sequestration losses range up to $200,000 in Elkhart County
U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, a Democrat, thinks Senate and House reps should bring the respective bodies' 2014 budget proposals to a conference committee ”so the two sides can work on ways to make cuts in a more thoughtful way than the current sequester,” Donnelly spokeswoman Elizabeth Shappell said in an email. “Unfortunately, some in the Senate have objected to moving forward with this effort unless certain demands are met.”
U.S. Sen. Dan Coats, a Republican and sequestration foe, says the 2014 budget is “small ball.” To really combat the U.S. deficit and growing U.S. government spending — the aim of sequestration — more fundamental, long-term change is needed.
“If we just careen from year to year, we're going to have these (fiscal) cliffs and we're going to have these fights and we're going to have all this drama and there's no certainty in the economy,” Coats said in a phone interview.
As Coats describes it, though, middle ground allowing for that sort of fundamental change doesn't seem to be immediately in the offing. He's worked with lawmakers of both parties, met with President Obama's staffers, but Obama hasn't been willing to bend, according to Coats.
One of the sticking points — Republicans say spending cuts should be the focus of deficit-reduction efforts while Obama and Democrats have touted a mix of new taxes and spending cuts.
“It's immensely frustrating because I know that it's keeping people out of work,” Coats said. “It's keeping our economy growing about half the rate it should be growing and I know, I witness every day, how government wastes money up here.”
Walorski, a Republican from Elkhart, said in an email she's “hopeful” lawmakers can reach some sort of alternative to sequestration, outlined in legislation predating her election to the U.S. House last November. That's about as far as she went, though.
“Sequestration is a failed Washington policy that defies Hoosier common sense and unfairly impacts American families,” she said.
Meanwhile, many agencies here in Elkhart County report feeling the effects of sequestration budget cuts. Some have had to cut up to $200,000 in individual budget items, though, by and large, they seem to be managing, at least for now.
'YOU CAN'T CUT 5 PERCENT?'
The across-the-board sequestration budget cuts actually weren't supposed to go into effect, not as proposed anyway. They were outlined in the Budget Control Act of 2011 as lawmakers sought an end to a showdown over raising the federal debt ceiling, according to the Washington D.C.-based Center for Law and Social Policy.
The cuts were supposed to be so bad, so unpalatable, that they would force lawmakers to reach an alternative deficit-reduction plan, said Coats. Unfortunately, he continued, “we weren't able to do that.”
So on March 1, sequestration went into effect. As the measure took hold, the estimates out of Washington D.C. were that sequestration would force $85 billion in spending cuts through September.
For Coats, the problem is that sequestration contemplates indiscriminate cutting, it doesn't distinguish between worthy and unworthy programs. Good programs face the same sort of cuts that bad ones do.
Still, he doesn't have much pity on agencies feeling the impact of sequestration. States, cities, business and households have had to cut, particularly during the lean years of the recent recession.
“But the federal government hasn't done that, so for agencies to come forward crying wolf, 'Oh, look what's happening here' — hey, do some management, do some planning,” Coats said. “You can't cut 5 percent out of your entire budget, which has been growing every year for the last 20 years?”
Follow reporter Tim Vandenack on Twitter at @timvandenack.