At Tweed, politicians decry sequester

Less than 24 hours before substantial federal spending cuts were to begin, four Connecticut politicians met to describe what they claimed would be the grave consequences of a national sequester.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro and Mayor John DeStefano Jr. warned at a news conference at Tweed Airport on Friday that the sequester — a series of federal military and domestic spending cuts totaling $85 billion that went into effect Saturday at midnight — would seriously damage Connecticut’s economy if not stopped, affecting thousands of state businesses and families. They called for a bipartisan solution to the country’s fiscal woes.

“The round of arbitrary, automatic cuts threatens to throw us back into the winter of economic downturn,” Blumenthal said.

The government sequester includes $55 billion and $27 billion in cuts to defense spending and nondefense discretionary spending, respectively. According to Blumenthal, experts said this sequester could cost 700,000 jobs by the end of 2014, including thousands of jobs in Connecticut.

Blumenthal said that instead of facing the sequester, Congress should raise revenue by closing tax loopholes for oil companies and agribusiness, eliminating tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas, shutting down military bases overseas, eliminating wasteful “cost-plus” military contracts and reducing the cost of health care. Most national Republicans, however, said they are unwilling to accept any solution to the sequester that involves higher taxes.

According to the politicians who held the event at Tweed Airport, these spending cuts will not have severe effects immediately but will slowly chip away at the nation’s already troubled economy. Blumenthal said that the sequester would not be “an earthquake” but would rather have a “cascading, rolling effect.”

Along the same lines, Murphy added that “[the sequester] will not hit the nation like a brick wall on Saturday.” He said the spending cuts are expected to cut the GDP by either a half a point or a full point and that either result would be “devastating.”

Murphy emphasized how the sequester would hamper future growth in Connecticut, citing 500 slots in Head Start, a federal early childhood support program, and $24 million in state research funding as examples of what could be lost as a result of the cuts. He also pointed to Tweed Airport as an engine for economic growth in New Haven that may be threatened by the sequester.

DeLauro and DeStefano called for Congress to look beyond the numbers at how the cuts would affect local residents’ quality of life.

“Every number has a story,” DeLauro said. “It’s about people’s lives.”

Seemingly to emphasize this same point, DeStefano called Tweed airport employees to the front of the room to show exactly who could be hurt if the sequester went into effect. Tweed Airport, which operates on a $3 million budget, may close its air traffic control facility as a result of the sequester.

Murphy and DeLauro pointed to the sequester as evidence for the need for bipartisanship in Washington.

“Washington needs to stop legislating crisis by crisis,” Murphy said. “A lot of people I talk to aren’t even paying attention to this crisis because they think there’s going to be another one one month from now or two months from now.“

DeLauro agreed, urging legislators to overcome ideology for the sake of their constituents. She added that if policymakers do not understand the “art of compromise,” then they should not be in the legislature.

The sequester is the result of previous budget deals between the White House and Republicans in Congress. After negotiations in August 2011 to increase the debt limit created what became called the “fiscal cliff” at the end of 2012, the two parties reached a deal to increase taxes on high-income citizens and moved the sequester to the beginning of March to allow more time for budget talks.

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