By Charles Pope
WASHINGTON – With hope fading that a deal will be reached to avert $85 billion in across-the-board federal spending cuts that begin on Friday, here’s what the failure could mean in Oregon.
Air traffic control facilities in Portland (Portland-Troutdale in Multnomah County), Klamath Falls, North Bend, Pendleton and Salem “could close,” the Federal Aviation Administration says as part of its effort to cope with a $600 million gash in its operating budget. The FAA is considering closing control towers at 100 airports that have fewer than 150,000 flight operations per year.
“We will begin furloughs and start facility shut-downs in April,” the agency said in a statement. The five Oregon airports were on a list assembled by the FAA as part of its preparations for the spending cuts.
There’s more. But caution is required since agencies are scrambling to prepare for the cuts and plans remain in flux. At the same time there’s a furious political battle underway as both parties and the White House work to deflect any blame that might come when the cuts hit.
Still, the budget realities are real. Most of the impacts were itemized by the White House’s Office of Management. The state-by-state inventories are based on historic levels of service and a straight calculation of what the mandatory cuts would mean.
The numbers are based only on the $85 billion in cuts for this fiscal year, from March to September, that are set to take effect Friday.
As to whether states could move money around to cover shortfalls, the White House said that depends on state budget structures and the specific programs. The White House did not have a list of which states or programs might have flexibility.
Under that methodology, Oregon will lose approximately $10.2 million in funding for primary and secondary education, “putting around 140 teacher and aide jobs at risk. In addition about 13,000 fewer students would be served and approximately 40 fewer schools would receive funding,” the White House said Sunday.
The Forest Service says furloughs and other budget disruptions could reduce timber sales.
Head Start and Early Head Start services would be eliminated for approximately 600 children in Oregon, reducing access to critical early education.
Approximately 3,000 civilian Department of Defense employees in the state would be furloughed, reducing gross pay by around $16.5 million in total.
Oregon will lose about $155,000 in Justice Assistance Grants that support law enforcement, prosecution and courts, crime prevention and education, corrections and community corrections, drug treatment and enforcement, and crime victim and witness initiatives.
Approximately 1,670 fewer children will receive vaccines for diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, whooping cough, influenza, and Hepatitis B due to reduced funding for vaccinations of about $114,000.
Oregon will lose about $890,000 in grants to help prevent and treat substance abuse, resulting in around 3800 fewer admissions to substance abuse programs. And the Oregon Health Authority will lose about $113,000 resulting in around 2,800 fewer HIV tests.
Oregon would lose approximately $690,000 in funds that provide meals for seniors.
Unemployment benefits will be cut by about 10 percent, or $30 per recipient each month.
There would be impacts in the forest too as a $134 million in reduction in the budget to thin federal forests would result in 200,000 few acres of forest being treated. Forest officials say that could increase the potential for wildfires. State figures were not provided but Oregon would undoubtedly be one of the harder hit states.
Keith Chu, a spokesman for Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said Wyden would insist that timber harvests be exempted from reduction.
“No matter what the funding level is, Sen. Wyden will continue to push the administration to prioritize big, landscape-scale projects that put logs into mills and make forests healthier and more resilient,” Chu said.
Likewise, timber sales would be trimmed to 2.4 million board feet from 2.8 million board feet because furloughed employees, the Forest Service said.
The Department of Energy say cuts would delay cleanup work “at our highest risk sites in Washington state” and elsewhere. This is especially significant given recent news of leaks from six underground storage tanks.
“These potential cuts to nuclear waste cleanup efforts at Hanford would clearly be counter-productive and put human health and the environment at risk, and Sen. Wyden is going to press the administration to prevent that from happening,” Chu said.
Most of the Oregon-specific information was created by the White House which released the information to reporters on Sunday. The effort has two goals. First, to prepare a public that is largely unaware of the precise, personal consequences of the automatic spending cuts that are known in Washington by the term “sequester.”
The second is political as the White House, backed by congressional Democrats frantically worked Sunday to convince the public that Republicans are to blame for the impasse and any inconvenience.
Head Start and Early Head Start services could be cut to 600 Oregon children, the White House says. Republicans say the cuts can be avoided if Democrats would negotiate.
Beth Nakamura/The Oregonian Obama senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer told reporters that the GOP is “so focused on not giving the president another win” that they will cost thousands of jobs. To back up their point, the White House released state-by-state tallies for how many dollars and jobs the budget cuts would mean to each state.
“The Republicans are making a policy choice that these cuts are better than eliminating loopholes,” Pfeiffer said.
Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., who is part of the House Republican leadership said his party has acted and it is Democrats who have scuttled a deal.
“It didn’t have to be this way,” Walden said Sunday.
“The President and the Democrats in the Senate could have supported our efforts in the House to offset the sequester with common sense spending reductions. Both in May and in December House Republicans passed legislation that replaced the sequester with smarter spending reductions, but the President and the Senate sat on their hands. Now it appears the Administration is going out of its way to make a bad situation worse by cutting programs and people who actually provide services,” he said.
The White House and Democrats have been aggressively warning of the hardship the spending cuts will bring expecting the resulting backlash will force Republicans to recalibrate their positions.
Republicans expect the opposite; that the cuts will difficult for some but, on balance, less severe than many believe. If that happens it will validate Republican insistence that extraordinary action is need to reduce the deficit and trim spending.
“Rather than issuing last-minute press releases on cuts to first responders or troop training or airport security, he should propose smarter ways to cut Washington spending,” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Sunday night. “After all, Washington spending, even with the sequester, is bigger than it was when he got here.
“There are smarter ways to reduce the size of government. And with the national debt well over $16 trillion dollars, it’s time for the White House to stop spending all its time campaigning, and start finding smarter ways to reduce the deficit,” he said.