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 Tuesday to Capitol Hill.
“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,” Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., said.
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 he providing more leadership to confront it?”
Congress set a course for this year’s cuts when the so-called budget “supercommittee” 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 supercommittee.
“We cannot afford to keep these cuts around for 10 more years and we cannot afford to keep governing from crisis to crisis,” Murray added.
Green’s testimony brought a personal look at how the stalemate in the nation’s Capitol is playing out at home.
She is pursuing an associate’s degree at Pierce College while holding down her job and taking care of her 6-year-old son. She has considered dropping health insurance but found that she couldn’t cancel the plan midyear. 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 the Pentagon will scale down investments in new technology, which would cripple one of the American military’s principle advantages against other nations.
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.”Adam Ashton: 253-597-8646 adam.ashton@ thenewstribune.com