Mandatory furloughs for Defense Department employees are nearly breaking Tacoma single mother Jennifer-Cari Green’s “bare bones” family budget, she told U.S. lawmakers in a visit to Capitol Hill today. “This furlough will likely cause me to slip below the line into poverty,” Green, 26, said at hearing for the Senate Budget Committee. “It feels punitive and I worry that it will make a beggar out of me.” Green, a secretary at Madigan Army Medical Center, was one of several people called to testify about how forced federal budget cuts known as sequestration are hurting family budgets and national security.
About 650,000 Defense Department employees are taking 11 unpaid days off this summer because of the cuts, which are taking about $40 billion out of military spending this year. About 10,000 workers at Joint Base Lewis-McChord are taking furloughs amounting to 20 percent of their pay over a three-month period. Lawmakers say they want to repeal the forced cuts, but they’re at an impasse about how to replace them with long-term deficit reform. If unchanged, they’ll cost the Defense Department about $500 billion over a decade.
“It is simply wrong and it doesn’t make sense as our world today remains a complex and dangerous place,” said Budget Committee Chairwoman Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. She wants the Republican-led House to consider a budget proposal from the Democratic-led Senate that would repeal sequestration. Republican leaders have refused to take it up in a budget conference.
Her counterpart on the Senate Budget Committee, Republican Jeff Sessions of Alabama, similarly criticized the rushed spending cuts but instead said he wants to see a different plan for deficit control from the White House.“I’m beginning to wonder if the president isn’t quite happy to see the defense department take this much cuts,” Sessions said. “If he was sincerely worried about it, why isn’t providing more leadership to confront it?”
Congress set a course for this year’s cuts when the so-called budget “super committee” failed to reach a long-term deficit reduction plan in 2011. Sequestration was supposed to bring them back to the table, said Murray, who was co-chair of the super committee. “We cannot afford to keep these cuts around for 10 more years and we cannot afford to keep governing from crisis to crisis,” Murray said.
Green’s testimony brought a personal look at how the stalemate in the capital is playing out at home. She said she is not getting much support from the father of her 6-year-old son. He lost a full-time job two years ago and has been struggling with part-time work since then. Meanwhile, Green is pursuing an associate’s degree at Pierce College while holding down her job and taking care of her son.
She has considered dropping health insurance, but found that she could not cancel the plan mid-year. She says she can’t live without her car, which she uses to commute from Tacoma to Madigan. “I often hear people talk about ‘tightening your belt,’ but I have very few options available to me,” she said in prepared remarks.
Lawmakers also heard from experts who said the defense cuts will erode combat readiness as the military recuperates from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan while preparing for unknown challenges. They fear that the Pentagon will scale down investments in new technology, which would cripple one of the American military’s principle advantages against other nations.
The defense cuts “will inevitably result in a less capable future Joint Force that is less ready and less robust than at any time since the end of the Cold War,” said Robert Work, chief executive of the Center for a New American Security. Green asked the lawmakers to think of families like hers when they vote on different budget plans. “We and the service members who rely on us are the victims of these budget policies,” she said. “I ask you to remember us when you vote on policies that make it almost impossible for us to support ourselves and our families,” she said.