President Obama and top administration officials are struggling with accuracy in explaining the impact of billions in federal budget cuts known as sequester that kicked in Saturday morning -- even getting called out by a Capitol Hill superintendent about furloughs for support staffers.
Carlos Elias, the Capitol Building superintendent, sent out a memo Friday reminding staffers that the current sequestration plan does not include “reductions in force or furloughs” and that “pay and benefit of each of our employees will not be impacted.”
Though not directly mentioning Obama by name, Elias also said in the memo that a “high-ranking official said employees that clean and maintain the U.S. Capitol will receive a cut in pay.”
Hours before the memo was released, the president, in what appears to be the administration’s attempt to maximize the potential impact of the cuts, said at a press conference: “Starting tomorrow everybody here, all the folks who are cleaning the floors at the Capitol. Now that Congress has left, somebody’s going to be vacuuming and cleaning those floors and throwing out the garbage. They’re going to have less pay. The janitors, the security guards, they just got a pay cut, and they’ve got to figure out how to manage that. That’s real.”
The cuts were proposed by the president and agreed upon by Congress in 2011 after Democrats and Republicans failed to agree on a more measured way to reduce the deficit. The $85 billion in cuts in 2013 to the Defense Department and domestic programs will be more like $45 billion when pro-rated this year.
Last weekend, Education Secretary Arne Duncan told CBS “there are literally teachers now who are getting pink slips, who are getting notices that they can’t come back this fall." However, Duncan appeared to backpedal Wednesday, coming up with just one example, a West Virginia county, and the disclaimer that “whether it’s all sequester-related, I don’t know.”
Officials in the state’s Kanawha County told The Washington Post that “transfer notices” were sent to at least 104 educators and they had more to do with how West Virginia allocates federal dollars designated for poor children.
PolitiFact, the Tampa Bay Times' fact-checking operation, has also reviewed officials’ sequester claims, concluding much has been “doomsday” and “worst-case-scenario” rhetoric.
The newspaper’s Pulitzer Prize-winning group found that Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s recent warning that air travel will be delayed because of Federal Aviation Administration cuts is just mostly true.
"Flights to major cities like New York, Chicago, and San Francisco and others could experience delays of up to 90 minutes during peak hours because we have fewer (air traffic) controllers on staff,” LaHood said last week.
Thought sequester requires across-the-board cuts with no shifting of money between agency departments, there appears to be some flexibility in make the cuts, including $600 million from the FAA, experts told PolitiFact.
Roughly one-third of FAA employees are controllers, so furloughs are possible. But agency Chairman Michael Huerta recently suggested cuts might start on the midnight shifts or at smaller and low-traffic facilities, which would at least in the short term spare the major airports.