Blunt is sticking with sequester cuts, but seeking tweaks to soften impact | St. Louis Public Radio

Blunt is sticking with sequester cuts, but seeking tweaks to soften impact

Mar 25, 2013

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., has sought to put the blame on President Barack Obama for the crucial federal employees and services – including air traffic control towers – that have taken the hit during the implementation of the across-the-board budget cuts known as the “sequester.”

That said, Blunt indicated that he continued to support the overall concept of the sequester, in effect since March 1.

“I’m optimistic that some of the right things are going to happen because the government has forced itself to do the right thing by setting the amount of money that can’t be exceeded unless you change the (sequester) law,” Blunt said Monday while in St. Louis. “And I’m not for changing the law.”

But Blunt is in favor of tweaking it, which is why he stopped at John Volpi & Co., a St. Louis firm whose 130 employees produce salami and other dry-cured meats.  Blunt was highlighting his success Friday in obtaining Senate approval of a budget provision to exempt the Department of Agriculture’s food inspectors from the sequester’s mandated cuts.

The department’s inspectors monitor production of meat, poultry and egg processing. Such work cannot take place without an inspector on site.

Blunt says that any furloughs or layoffs of USDA inspectors would threaten 500,000 private-sector jobs at the processing facilities. If all of the inspectors take the mandated 11 furlough days in place for many federal workers, he said the result would be a loss of $400 million on take-home pay for the workers at the processing plants.

“These are hard jobs for people who are trying to support families,” Blunt said.

He added that he’s optimistic that he and congressional allies will be able to win approval of a measure to exempt key federal employees dealing with public-safety issues – including food inspectors, air traffic controllers and border guards – from any furloughs or sequester cuts.

Blunt said he was seeking to use the same language that Obama had stipulated in early 2011 during a previous fiscal fight that appeared to head toward a possible government shutdown.

That language was not included in the sequester measure because the White House and its Democratic allies had assumed that the sequester would never go into effect and would be replaced. But Democrats and the GOP could not agree on an alternative.

Blunt said he was aware of the concerns of national-defense experts like former Sen. Jim Talent, R-Mo., who strongly oppose the sequester cuts mandated of the military. Blunt noted that he’s among only three senators who sit on the Armed Services Committee and the Senate’s defense appropriations panel.

Blunt said he believed that his proposal to allow more flexibility in implementation of the cuts would satisfy many of the military’s concerns.

Overall, he blamed Obama because the White House initially had told federal department and agencies last fall, when they began a new budget year, to ignore the sequester because it wasn’t expected to go into effect. 

As a result, said Blunt, the 5 percent overall cut is reaching much deeper because almost half of the fiscal year has already gone by.