Published Friday, February 22, 2013

Westmoreland expects automatic budget cuts


U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Ga. Third Congressional District, says he believes sequestration will take effect.

Federal legislators and President Barack Obama have until March 1 to reach an agreement on budget cuts. If they cannot reach accord by that date, then $85 billion in federal budget cuts will be automatically triggered.

“I believe sequestration is going to happen,” Westmoreland said Wednesday at the South Metro Development Outlook conference, held at the Georgia International Convention Center in College Park.

Westmoreland, U.S. Rep. David Scott and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed served on a panel – moderated by Maria Saporta of The Atlanta Business Chronicle – during the final session of the daylong conference.

The Budget Control Act of 2011 created the sequestration process. The law required that a bipartisan supercommittee – comprised of three Democrats and three Republicans from both the U.S. House and Senate – find ways to remove $1.2 trillion from the federal budget.

The automatic, across-the- board cuts were put in the bill as a “pill so bitter” both Democrats and Republicans “would want to find an answer,” rather than let them take place, Westmoreland said. With the deadline less than a week away, government leaders have not been able to reach a consensus on cuts to avoid sequestration.

“It was a bad idea from the start, and I voted against it,” said Westmoreland, a Republican who lives near Grantville in south Coweta County.

Scott, a Democrat who represents the 13th District, was a bit more optimistic. “I am still praying, and I am still hoping that we can get something done” to avoid sequestration, he said.

Scott and Westmoreland have known each other for years and once co-sponsored a bill when both were Georgia state representatives. They were collegial at the SMDO session and often found points of agreement.

Scott agreed with Westmoreland that sequestration is “a bad idea, a bad deal.” Scott said the law is the political equivalent of putting “a gun to your head.”

Both men were frank that sequestration would have impacts that go beyond numbers on a spreadsheet. “This sequestration is more than just something we’re dealing with budgetarily in Washington,” Scott said.

Sequestration “will kill jobs,” Westmoreland said. Scott said “thousands, even perhaps million of people could be losing their jobs” if the cuts take effect.

“The country could be thrown back into a second recession,” Reed said. Scott spoke of negative impacts on the military and national security functions of the government from sequestration.

“The way out is not through these drastic cuts,” Scott asserted. Referring to the $85 billion, Scott said, “85 percent of that money is jobs.”

“The administration got their tax increase at the end of the December with no strings attached,” Westmoreland said. He said the House, which has a majority of Republicans, has passed bills to address the budget cuts, but those bills have not been taken up by the Democratic-controlled Senate.

“We’ve had plenty of time to deal with it,” Westmoreland said.

If sequestration does take effect, it is not certain exactly how some of the cuts will fall. The Obama administration will have oversight over cuts “in some of these domestic programs,” Westmoreland said. “Then we will see where our priorities are.”

The Coweta resident predicted “the debate is going to continue on for a while.”

“I believe America wants to go the way this election went,” said Scott, who stated he favors “a balanced approach” in dealing with the budget issues.

Reed said it is important for people of all political persuasions to have a concern for what is best for the nation that outweighs the level “we dislike each other.” Reed said allowing sequestration will have the impact of “weakening the United States’ position as the leader of the world.”

Reed talked about the drastic impact on the United Kingdom after similar cuts took place. “We don’t have to imagine” what happens when cuts are used “as a blunt instrument,” Reed said.

The Atlanta mayor said members of both political parties owe it to the country to find solutions. “These folks can get in a room” – and together find a solution, Reed said.

The panel talked about why it is imperative that Democrats and Republicans collaborate. “The overall theme we’ve hit upon here is vision and cooperation,” Scott said.

There is “a hunger in this country to see Democrats and Republicans working together,” said Scott, who also talked about the need “to work across party lines, to have an open door.”

Westmoreland reflected on the difficulties with inter-party cooperation. “It’s much easier to be bipartisan when you’re talking about these projects that are beneficial to all the citizens of the state,” he said – noting that he and Scott “have met together” and reached agreement on issues that affect the citizens they represent.

“These big national issues – they’re just a little more dicey,” Westmoreland said.

“The things we agree on, we should work together on,” Reed said. “We should look for the things we agree on and leave the other things for the partisan fights.”

Reed said “extremists on both sides” are a danger. “Extremists don’t have a place in either party. America’s position in the world is being threatened by extremists,” he said. “These people are causing – not me harm, the country harm.”

Reed also called for lowering the level of suspicion and vitriol in government. “We need to be careful of being suspect of folks’ politics,” he said. “Let’s have a little sensitivity.”

He said there is more cooperation and collaboration “than I think people see or acknowledge.”

Michael Hightower, whose The Collaborative Firm puts together SMDO, spoke of Westmoreland and Scott as “two of Georgia’s finest members of Congress.”

“What we have heard today are three statesmen,” said Saporta.

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