Chester Daily Local
The sequester budget cuts that recently had Congress scrambling to untangle the mess caused by furloughed air traffic controllers is more manageable than the Obama administration is letting on, U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey told an editorial roundtable.
On Tuesday, Pennsylvania’s junior senator met with editors from Digital First Media and responded to their questions, several of which were related to government spending.
The furloughing of the air traffic controllers “was entirely unnecessary,” Toomey said, and was the result more of a political need than a fiscal one.
“Since the beginning, the administration has tried to demonstrate that the cuts in the sequester are not manageable,” Toomey said. “It disrupts their narrative if they turn out to be manageable.”
So rather than cut from more logical places, the FAA cut air traffic controllers to make a political point, Toomey said.
“The post-sequester budget for the FAA still has more money than the administration asked for in its budget,” said Toomey.
He said he joined with Oklahoma Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe in sponsoring a Senate bill in March that would have given the administration more flexibility in deciding where to cut, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would not bring it to the floor.
Toomey said that it is a “valid criticism” to say that the sequester language is “badly designed,” but noted that when it was enacted, no one thought it would ever come to pass.
The sequester cuts were created by Congress as a result of the negotiations to raise the debt ceiling in 2011.
Because the ceiling was raised without any deficit reduction, the two parties agreed to the Budget Control Act, which cut domestic spending over the next 10 years by about $1 trillion. Democrats refused to agree to more cuts without additional revenue from taxes, and Republicans refused to agree to tax increases, according to an explanation published by The New York Times.
The idea was that the cuts would be so painful, that both sides would be forced to come to a deficit reduction deal.
But that didn’t happen. Some of the effects are beginning to be felt here in Pennsylvania.
On Tuesday, the news website ProPublica reported on Twitter that as a result of the sequester, $400,000 has been cut from the Head Start program in Wilkes Barre, leaving 49 youngsters without a program to join.
In Tobyhanna, 418 workers were laid off at an Army munitions depot as a result of the cuts.
Further, the Flight 93 9/11 Memorial in Stoystown will start its tours this summer one month later as a result of the cuts.
Asked about those cuts, Toomey replied that “all programs are not equally important or unimportant.”
Things have become difficult, Toomey said, “because Congress and the administration won’t do the hard work of sitting down and identifying which programs should be a priority.”
Noting that the sequestration cuts only represent “2.5 percent of this enormously bloated budget figure,” Toomey said there are many candidates for reasonable cuts.
“We have 47 different job training programs. Not to say that job training isn’t important, it is. But do we really need 47 programs? Are they really all equally effective?” he asked. “We have 94 different green energy programs. Do we really need 94 of them?”
Toomey also continued to defend the findings of a study by two Harvard University economists that many conservatives cite as evidence that austerity budgeting will not only reduce the deficit but foster economic growth, even though the study has recently been show to be include faulty data.
University of Massachusetts Amherst graduate student Thomas Herdon set off an academic and political fire storm when he found errors in the landmark paper by Harvard economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, a paper frequently cited by budget hawks, which concludes that economies with higher debt grow more slowly.
But Toomey’s faith in the economic approach Reinhart and Rogoff’s findings support remains unshaken, despite the undermining of its findings, he said.
“It’s intuitively clear that the fundamental premise that your economy can’t grow with too much debt,” Toomey said. “That debt comes back to haunt you.”
Further, addressing that debt with higher taxes, “has a chilling effect on the ability of businesses to grow,” he argued.
However, when asked to name a country where austerity and cost-cutting had led to growth, Toomey did not, instead arguing that austerity programs in Japan “were not really austerity” and that current attempts in Great Britain and the European Union are not comparable because “they have inflexible (Harry) Reid economies, their taxes are too high.”
Toomey also took a shot at Senate Democrats, noting that the much-maligned 60-vote filibuster ceiling does not apply to budget resolutions.
“Over the last three years, the Senate Democrats have not done a budget resolution, which is not subject to the 60-vote threshold. It would be impossible for the GOP to stop it. We wanted to have that debate but (Senate Majority Leader Harry) Reid stopped it from getting to the floor.”
“Having said that,” Toomey said, “there is a problem in Washington, D.C. with” issues becoming over-politicized.
“We have to start finding common ground where we can,” he said.
He pointed to bills he is working on with Democratic senators Claire McCaskill of Missouri for a ban on earmarks and Jean Shaheen of New Hampshire to send sugar subsidies.
“We have to look for areas where we have agreement,” Toomey said, “and build trust so we can build foundations for bigger things.”