Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

March 2, 2013

In sequestered days of 2013, budget cuts may ultimately pin down citizens

A series of “rolling budget cuts” that will take effect in stages and ultimately produce about $1.2 trillion in reduced government over 10 years (as originally intended) is probably not going to happen. The sequester, so called, is probably, maybe, possibly, at least technically, in effect by this morning if indeed Congressional leaders and President Obama could not agree on some type of solution as of midnight Friday. It is not likely going to endure in its present form so that we can expect the government to somehow paint over it to re-muddle yet again an incredibly confusing financial picture. As a regular U.S. citizen, I am so confused.

To begin with, every day I stand up faithfully to recite the Pledge of Allegiance with my first period class. For more than 40 years, I have voted in every local, state and national election. I have attended political rallies beginning with one my parents took me to involving, among others, Gov. J. Lindsay Almond Jr., up to and including presidential inaugurations and nearly every kind of party gathering in between from Richmond to Tazewell and back. I have even made a few very modest political donations.

While I have never run for political office, I have tried to support those who have while admiring their courage in making the attempt. I confess that one reason I have not sought any office is that I sincerely believed others much more capable of serving the public. However, as I watch the nightly news and read my daily paper, I am beginning to wonder if many of us should not have tried for higher office. I scarcely doubt that in many cases we would have done worse. Consider our expectations.

Forgive me, but as an unschooled ordinary citizen who depends upon national elected officials to (generally) effectively control the operation of the United States, it seems as if the term “Congressional leaders” is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. Many of my neighbors seem to feel the same way. We wonder if anybody is charge up there in Washington. Every few months we encounter another kind of fiscal crisis. What on earth is going on?

We have been told that Social Security, Medicaid, Veterans Administration, Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), food stamps and Pell grants are among the significant government dispensations which will not be affected — which means not being reduced. On the other hand, reports are circulating that within the next 30 to 45 days, a host of cuts including reduction of air traffic controllers, cuts in the defense budget, and other slicing will begin to be implemented. The Secretary of the Navy said publicly earlier this week that several battle groups would be affected (meaning, I think, air craft carrier units) and the president spoke about job cuts in the Newport News Shipbuilding facility. This confrontation began earlier than Final Friday.

Evidently, the current situation was first written into the 2011 Budget Control Act. It has been changed at least once when “Congressional leaders” came up with $24 billion to balance out what would have equaled the cuts scheduled to go into place a few months ago. They were able, according to one report, to alter the schedule while revising the sequester’s start date. It almost seems that Congress can rewrite the page and make up rules as it goes along. At least publicly, the bureaucracy has been moving slowly.

There have been precious few meetings in recent days. The Speaker of the House hurled a curse word at the Senate, the president has railed at other politicians, and political talk shows have been working overtime to cuss and discuss the whole brouhaha. Meanwhile, scores of workers ranging from FBI employees to members of the federal prison workforce are wondering right now if their wages, benefits and/or jobs will be either reduced or eliminated either short term or permanently.

Now, I am admittedly an old-timer who spent most of his life in a simpler world than now exists. Typewriters were machines I understood and I freely confess that I struggle to master the amazing capabilities lurking underneath my computer keys. I used the term “carburetor” instead of fuel injection to talk about power a couple of days ago and a friend asked me where I have been for the past 10 years. It is not all impossible. My wife has helped me to understand how to operate a 21st-century cell phone and the wonders of Netflix are now part of my routine. I do carry a laptop to cover high school basketball games so there is hope. Perhaps like you, however, I am almost beyond understanding this latest government showdown.

In conclusion, We have been informed that this sequester, so called, impacts less than 3 percent of the federal budget.

As an employee concerned about likely having another year with no pay raise, an increase in insurance premiums, and an already slightly reduced paycheck because of imposed cuts for other government programs, I remain confused and more or less helpless to do anything about the present situation. Within the past 61 days, I have written to legislators four times about the need to take positive steps in terms of our legislative process.

Whether or not anyone has been paying attention I do not know. After all, what does one little vote mean in a country with 315 million citizens? I can hardly imagine that my voice will ever resonate with anyone in the nation’s capital and it is probably best that I continue to enjoy my delightful local status as Voice of the Bulldogs. That is indeed an honor and one which I will never take lightly.

When the Dodgers left Brooklyn, the owner said he could not afford to keep them there because he was not making money. It was later revealed that at the time the Dodgers were one of baseball’s most financially sound teams. Maybe the government is running out of money. We will probably never find out.

Finally, those of us at the bottom of the list — and I say this as a Virginia resident who lives in a right to work state where there is no right not to work and no collective bargaining power — seem to have no influence.

Like the old Dodger fans, we may have once again gotten caught watching the paint dry.

Larry Hypes is a teacher at Tazewell High School and a columnist for the Daily Telegraph.

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