Vermont Republicans frame sequester cuts as a needed correction

Don Turner. VTD/Josh Larkin

Don Turner. VTD/Josh Larkin

 

Vermont’s leading Republican, Jack Lindley, has taken a hardline view on the federal government’s $85 billion in sequester cuts over the next seven months, which went into effect on Friday.

Lindley, the state GOP chair, says the across-the-board cuts, split 50-50 between defense and non-defense federal agencies, are merely a “bend in a curve of increasing expenditures.”

“If we can’t get ourselves in a position where we can watch a slowing of government expenditures, by 2.5 percent, then we’re going to leave our grandkids in an awful mess,” Lindley told VTDigger.

“Unfortunately, they [Democrats] view the world so that when you don’t expend at increasing amounts, they believe that those are cuts. Those are not cuts: they are reductions in the levels of expenditures that are ever-increasing,” he continued.

Gov. Peter Shumlin has estimated that Vermont could lose $15 million as a result of the automatic spending cuts. In addition, more than 500 Vermont National Guard members could see a 20 percent pay cut, and 6,000 federal employees working in the state could be affected.

While Lindley says he doesn’t think the sequester is the best way to tackle what he calls “excessive” federal spending, because it doesn’t distinguish between different spending priorities within agencies, he believes it may be the only alternative.

“Sequester is not the best option, but it’s the only option for trying to get expenditures under control,” Lindley said. “That’s because there’s been gridlock in Washington.”

“My friends on the other side have overblown their statements as to how the world is going to come to an end, and I find that regrettable,” Lindley said. “They’re not being very thoughtful relative to bringing federal expenditures under control. The sun came up on March 1, and the sun set on March 1, and the world has not come to an end. It is now March 4, and I don’t believe the world has come to an end.”

Other Vermont GOP leaders are also skeptical about the extent of the damage to the state. Rep. Don Turner, who leads the minority GOP caucus in the House, said when lawmakers introduced a draft resolution last Friday opposing the spending cuts, he objected to the use of words like “drastic” and “severe” to describe the sequester’s impact, because the extent of the impact is still not “truly known.” Democratic majority leader Willem Jewett, D-Ripton, and Progressive leader Rep. Chris Pearson, P-Burlington, sponsored the resolution along with Turner.

“A lot of people are trying to make this seem like a huge, huge cut,” Turner told VTDigger. “I don’t think that’s the case. I think there are cuts in many areas, and they’re not going to get as much money as they’d hoped to have gotten. But I don’t think they’ll see substantial cuts either.”

“I don’t want people to be scared into making decisions based on fear,” he added.

Turner’s other take is that the sequester provokes a long overdue and much-needed conversation about the state’s reliance on federal funding. The state received 36 percent of its $6.7 billion budget from the feds in fiscal year 2013, its largest single source of revenue, according to the Joint Fiscal Office’s Fiscal Facts 2013.

“This reality is working upon people, that we can’t just continue to depend more and more on federal dollars,” said Turner. “We have become very, very dependent in Vermont on federal money, and we need to start to wean ourselves off of that. … This [sequestration] may be the way that a majority of people see that we can’t depend on federal dollars.”

Turner described the ongoing fiscal controversy in Washington, D.C., as a chance to evaluate state programs, examine ways to offset federal funding and gauge whether these programs can be delivered with a reduced share of federal money.

But Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, arguably the state’s most prominent Republican politician, doesn’t see Turner’s goal as realistic, and sees nothing positive emerging from sequestration.

Though acknowledging that Vermont is heavily dependent on federal funds, Scott said: “I already feel as though we tax Vermonters enough. … I don’t think there’s any more room for us to come up with any more revenue to offset federal dollars. … As for cutting our way out of it, I don’t believe we have the appetite to do that.”

Scott, like Lindley and Turner, believes that the sequester’s impact won’t be quite as damaging as some have predicted. After the onslaught of “political theater” and “rhetoric” from both Democrats and Republicans, said Scott, his office interviewed as many people as they could find to gauge the impact of the cuts in Vermont.

“What we found is that it won’t have much of an effect on us in the short term. But of course, in the longer term, it could hurt us tremendously, especially if they [federal politicians] continue to kick the can down the road,” said Scott.

Turner’s language is more direct. Among his caucus, he said, “I don’t think anyone’s concerned that the state’s going to stop business, or that some of our most vulnerable are going to be hurt because of this initial sequestration. I don’t think anyone’s concerned that anyone’s going to be severely impacted.”

However, the resolution introduced by liberals and backed by Turner noted substance abuse programs would treat 500 fewer people, 100 children would lose funding under the Head Start program, and “about 100 disadvantaged and vulnerable children could lose access to child care.”

All three GOP politicians blame the cuts on a failure of leadership in Washington, D.C., advising that those in the capital learn from Montpelier in terms of successful bipartisan politics.

Lt. Gov. Phil Scott.

Lt. Gov. Phil Scott.

Quick to attack, the Vermont Democratic Party last week launched an email missive after Lindley discussed his views on the sequester with Montpelier Times-Argus reporter Pete Hirschfeld.

Jake Perkinson, the state chair of the Democratic Party, condemned Lindley’s statements last week as “ill-informed” and “out of touch with the realities of the financial implication of the cuts.” Perkinson added that sequestration would affect higher education, civil defense, education for children with disabilities, law enforcement and public health.

Perkinson also labeled new Republican vice chair Deborah Bucknam, Lindley’s new second-in-command, a “tea party activist.” Bucknam didn’t respond to VTDigger’s requests for comment.

Although Shumlin has pinned responsibility for inaction on federal House Republicans, Scott disagreed with that view.

“I blame all involved, Republicans and Democrats alike,” Scott said. “They both made the deal together, decided when the date was going to be, what the terms were. Both parties should be blamed equally for the lack of action.”

Scott added: “I think Vermonters – Vermont Republicans, Vermont Democrats – I think everyone’s uneasy about what’s going on, because they don’t know what it [the cuts] mean to them, and what they should do. Should they hoard their money? As a business do you expand or sell?”

“There’s so much of his uncertainty from the national level, and with the health care system going through a transition at the same time, that’s just making the situation even worse.”

CORRECTION: The article originally read: Rep. Don Turner, who leads the minority GOP caucus in the House, said when left-leaning lawmakers introduced a draft resolution last Friday opposing the spending cuts, he objected to the use of words like “drastic” and “severe” to describe the sequester’s impact, because the extent of the impact is still not “truly known.” Democratic majority leader Willem Jewett, D-Ripton, and Progressive leader Rep. Chris Pearson, P-Burlington, are the main sponsors of the resolution.

Turner actually co-sponsored the resolution along with Jewett and Pearson. The story now reads: Other Vermont GOP leaders are also skeptical about the extent of the damage to the state. Rep. Don Turner, who leads the minority GOP caucus in the House, said when lawmakers introduced a draft resolution last Friday opposing the spending cuts, he objected to the use of words like “drastic” and “severe” to describe the sequester’s impact, because the extent of the impact is still not “truly known.” Democratic majority leader Willem Jewett, D-Ripton, and Progressive leader Rep. Chris Pearson, P-Burlington, sponsored the resolution along with Turner.

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Comments

  1. Walter Carpenter :

    “Perkinson added that sequestration would affect higher education, civil defense, education for children with disabilities, law enforcement and public health.”

    I heartily agree with what Perkinson said here. As usual, this latest snafu will hardly seem like a bump for the 1%, but the rest of us will suffer dramatically for it.

  2. Pete Novick :

    Several economists, including 2 who have won the Nobel Prize in economics, have published papers demonstrating that interest payments on the national debt (public debt + trust fund debt) are manageable now, and in the out years.

    The CBO agrees.

    Here’s a link that will give you a good snapshot of the interest expense on US public debt:

    http://www.treasurydirect.gov/govt/reports/ir/ir_expense.htm

    Lots of folks are huffing and puffing about the debt issue these days, though it is important to keep in mind that the public debt, which represents the total accumulated annual federal budget deficits, represents spending authorized by Congress.

    The president starts the process by submitting a proposed budget in February for the fiscal year that begins in October. Congress votes on the budget and sends it to the the president for signature.

    Congress has the power to lower the budget deficits, and by extension, the public debt.

    The president’s proposed federal budget for FY 2014 is about $3.9 trillion. The CBO projects tax revenues will be about $3.0 trillion.

    So, why doesn’t Congress pass a $3.0 trillion budget and send it to the president?

    If you can answer that question, you are in the wrong line of work.

  3. Pete Novick :

    An open invitation to Mr. Lindley:

    Mr. Lindley, without using any resources, tell me what the value of all federal expenditures are in Vermont.

    In your calculation, include:

    – Direct program funding (cite OMB line items where possible)
    – Reimbursements
    – Subsidies
    – Price supports
    – Federal salaries and wages
    – Matching funds
    – Mandated disbursements (authorized by Congress)
    – Non-labor expenditures (example, VA hospital, etc.)
    – Transfer payments to individuals

    If you get within 10% of the correct value, I’ll buy you and your family dinner.

    Post your answer on this website please by Tuesday at 5 PM.

    I look forward to hearing from you.

    Kind regards,

    Pete Novick

  4. Craig Powers :

    I bet you will be fine.

  5. Turners points are far more coherent.

    I don’t think it’s unfair or political to characterize Vermont as being “dependent” on Federal Funds — that’s self-evidident past the point of tautology.

    • Moshe Braner :

      It’s not like we have much of a choice on that dependency. We have to pay the federal taxes, whether we accept whatever portion they send back to us or not. Unless we secede from union, in which case they may still ask us to pay our share of the national debt that has been foisted onto us.

      • We have no choice on Federal taxes. We do have a choice on budgeting beyond our means.

        That “choice” is only theoretical though. It seems likely our native population is simply too dependent for Vermont state government to balance their budgets without doing great harm to the least able. (Please bear in mind I mean “dependent” in a very straightforward and non-judgemental way and I don’t see social services as “entitlement” programs.)

        If we are dependent on FedGov now, it’s a problem because our demographic & economic challenges are only projected to get worse in the future. What happens when our dependency on Federal funding isn’t enough to cover those folks, either?

        It’s not even a hypothetical question, really, we’ve been there for several years now at least.

  6. David Usher :

    The sequester is a dumb way to do what’s essential to control federal government spending within limits supportable by the economy. The sequester is a drop in the bucket.

    Any large budget can be reduced by 10% with negligible effect if done intelligently. Washington and it’s special interests persistently defy common sense in favor of political advantage. We have a fiscal problem because the President and Congress suffer from a leadership deficit.

  7. Ben Deliduka :

    Jack seems to forget that the Republicans have sponsored and championed massive spending increases in the early 2000′s and have fought to prevent any cuts to massive subsidy to corporations…. both major parties are guilty of spending money we don’t have….

    • You may be mixing up Jack Lindley with Karl Rove and James Baker. US GOP and VT GOP are hugely different animals.

      • Robert Ryan :

        VT GOP seem to make that difference less and less clear with statements like this.

  8. James Minnich :

    There is nothing strange about Lindley’s remarks. They typify the standard Republican line against people and for corporations. There is over $1 trillion spent every year on what we refer to as corporate welfare. I did not notice any suggestions from him suggesting that these corporations should absorb some of these cuts. These Republicans would rather have Vermonters forced out of their homes into eternal poverty than to even cut one dime from corporate pork. Oh, and by the way, Lindley, if you try to argue that corporate welfare creates jobs, think again, if you can, it is pocketed by overpaid non producing execs who could care less about providing jobs for wanting Americans.

    Republicans who still believe in “trickle down”, “voodoo economics” should probably take their ideas to the closest urinal and let it trickle down there.

  9. For anyone to cloak draconian cuts as a positive step to reduce “dependence on the federal government” is hypocrisy of the highest order. If avoidance of dependency on government subsidies were the issue, why don’t all those public officials who favor the sequester stop cashing their own government paychecks? That would “free them” of their dependency, at least.

    Do these folks remember Tropical Storm Irene? In a single day, sufficient damage was done to amount to more than three times our town’s (Newfane) annual budget. I’ve lived in the third world and know precisely what happens when a smaller entity tries to face a disaster beyond their ability to recover: They don’t recover!

    The anti-public spending mantra has taken has reached absurd proportions. It’s like suggesting that we reduce our dependency on food by starving to death! When will these ideologues who defend low taxes to the rich and their corporations against the needs of ordinary Americans be brought to task?

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