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State congressional delegation debates cuts, sequestration

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., called Congress' inability to work in a bipartisan manner to stop "reckless spending cuts" discouraging and shameful, while Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., said sequestration would cause severe disruptions in government services that all state residents would feel.

Meanwhile, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., called the sequester a "sloppy, across-the-board spending cut" that is bad for West Virginia and the country.     

Across-the-board cuts in federal spending, called "sequestration," are scheduled to go into effect Friday if Congress fails to pass legislation -- temporary or long-term -- to deal with the crisis.

But two West Virginia Republicans in Congress blamed President Obama for first proposing sequestration and now failing to offer a realistic plan to replace it.

Manchin released a report on Tuesday detailing 20 types of budget cuts that would effect law enforcement officers, firefighters, mine safety programs, businesses, veterans, seniors, children and families in West Virginia.

"It is discouraging and shameful that Congress cannot work in a bipartisan manner to come together and reach a long-term compromise to get our fiscal house in order and stop these reckless spending cuts from going into effect," Manchin said.

Still, Rahall expressed optimism that Congress will take some action when he spoke to the County Commissioners' Association of West Virginia in Charleston Monday.

"If across-the-board cuts in spending are allowed to take full effect, there should be no doubt that it would cause severe disruptions in essential government services and funding that would be felt by every West Virginian," Rahall said.

"The potential closing of airport towers across West Virginia is only one of several nightmare scenarios that could occur unless Congress acts."

Air-traffic control facilities could close at airports in Bridgeport, Wheeling, Huntington, Lewisburg and Williamstown by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Lay-offs of government workers would not begin to take effect until April at the earliest, if at all, Rahall added.

Rockefeller said in a statement that he's been pushing for a vote to stop the sequester this year and prevent the "severe impact" it would have on "our people and our economy.

"We need targeted cuts that reduce spending and eliminate waste without harming the programs that work for West Virginians," he said. "If Congress will come together, we can fix our budget in a balanced way -- without threatening the middle class, jobs, our infrastructure and our economic recovery."

But Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said on Tuesday, "Sequester was the president's idea, and now when we're getting down to the wire, he's more interested in placing blame than actually fixing the problem.

"There is no question that we need to cut spending, but we need to do so through the proper channels, such as tax reform and actually passing a reasonable budget -- which the Senate hasn't done in three years," Capito said.

Rep. David B. McKinley, R-W.Va., said, "Across-the-board cuts are not the best way to cut spending, but the question remains how do we replace them while still controlling spending.

"House Republicans passed two separate bills to replace the sequester with targeted spending cuts. Yet the Senate has refused to take action, and the president hasn't offered a plan beyond another tax increase.

"Americans can handle the truth," McKinley said in a press release issued last Friday. "They want all sides to work together and find a solution to our spending problem, not score political points. Until the President offers a realistic plan to replace the sequester and cut spending, that won't occur."

On Tuesday, Manchin released a list of 20 of the most significant cuts in federal funds coming to West Virginia if Congress fails to pass a new budget:

  • Nearly $2.5 million would be cut from clean air, clean water and fish and wildlife protection programs.
  • Two thousand civilian Department of Defense employees in West Virginia would be furloughed. The Army's base-operation funds would be cut by about $1.4 million.
  • About $30 million would be cut from National Guard funding, leading to immediate layoffs for 56 Guardsmen and more than 900 temporary furloughs later in the year.
  • 415 students would lose pre-school Head Start educational programs.
  • More than $200,000 would be cut in funding for law enforcement and first responders, including firefighters.
  • Federal Drug Administration food safety inspection programs would be reduced, as well as some federal mine accident prevention efforts.
  • $160,000 would be lost from nutrition programs for seniors, particularly in rural areas.
  • Cuts in financial aid would take away financial aid or work-study jobs for 260 low-income students.
  • Cuts in Center for Disease Control funds would prevent several hundred West Virginia children from getting vaccinations and at least 600 women from receiving cancer screenings.
  • "These cuts are draconian," Manchin said. "I am hoping they find a deal before the end of the month. A common sense approach to fixing things seems to be continually broken."

    Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.


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