Just how bad are the across-the-board federal budget cuts of sequestration? It depends on who you ask.
It’s been two weeks since the mandatory cuts to defense and domestic spending were enacted. In a break during a recent session of the House of Representatives, we asked a quartet of lawmakers: Has life as we know it been affected in Congressional districts across Southern California?
"Uh, no," said Republican Congressmen Devin Nunes from Visalia. Fellow Republican Congressman John Campbell of Irvine said he's seen "nothing, really" to indicate the cuts are devastating his district.
You get a different answer from Democrat Alan Lowenthal, whose district includes the joint forces training base in Los Alamitos, which employs many civilians.
"It’s the National Guard, it’s the Army Reserve and they’re devastated by the sequester," Lowenthal said.
He pointed out the civilian employees who run the airfields, including air controllers, are all being furloughed. The furloughs haven’t happened yet, but Lowenthal said the base knows they’re coming.
Fellow Democrat Linda Sanchez said the defense cuts hit her Cerritos district, too: "We’ve already been contacted by several businesses that do subcontracts for defense contractors and they’re not hiring, they’re talking about having to furlough employees."
Campbell said over the past year, when talk of sequestration was still just a threat, he also heard from defense contractors in Orange County, wondering whether their contracts would be renewed.
But Campbell said, at least one of the defense contractors who had expressed concern told him: “You guys got to cut spending, so if I wind up losing this contract, that’s okay. We’ll get by."
Campbell did complain about the President’s decision to shut the White House to public tours, something the Congressman labeled an “abominable move.” He said one Orange County school group of nearly a hundred students and their teachers and parents raised money to come see the Capitol and the White House.
"They saw the Capitol," Campbell said, "they’re not going to be able to see the White House. And that’s really unfortunate and I think that was just frankly, a bonehead move on the part of the President."
Democrats say the domestic cuts are troublesome in other ways as well. Sanchez said she’s received calls from city managers in her district worried about cuts to community development block grants, grants to hire police officers, funding for Section 8 housing and Headstart programs.
Lowenthal said schools are losing a “significant” amount of money. "When you represent large urban districts that really have multiple needs of students," he said, "this is what our districts rely upon and they’re the most vulnerable and going to be the most impacted by sequester."
Nunes, who represents a more rural district, warned it’s just the beginning.
"Everybody knows we have to make cuts," Nunes said. And when you make cuts, there's "absolutely" going to be less government expenditures. "So we have to prioritize."
He added that "all this running around, screaming the sky’s falling" won't solve the larger problem, which he said is entitlements: Medicare and Medicaid.
The President told House Democrats last week to prepare to make concessions on entitlement reform – if Republicans agree to close tax loopholes.
Congresswoman Sanchez said cuts have to be balanced with additional revenue.
"We’re saying when families are in distress, sometimes you have family members that get a second job or a part time job to bring in extra revenue," Sanchez said. She called that "a more balanced approach."
But at least at this point, extra tax revenue is not a bridge Republicans are willing to cross.