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On the Other Hand

By Mary Chollet
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About the Blogger

Mary Chollet

On the Other Hand by Mary Chollet

As a longtime journalist (and now the Editor-in-Chief of PaintSquare News and D+D News), Mary Chollet believes that there are not two sides to every story—there are dozens. “On the Other Hand” aims to explore as many as possible.

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Monday, March 4, 2013

Congress Teaches the ABCs of OPJ

Nobody loves abbreviations like the folks in Washington, DC (an abbreviation itself), so it’s not terribly surprising that the Capitol crowd has spiced up its OPM mindset with a dash of OPJ.

OPM, of course, is Other People’s Money. Nothing easier to spend. (In fact, spending OPM is SOP in DC.)

OPJ is Other People’s Jobs. Nothing easier to cut.

 Sequester triggers

The sequester triggers $85 billion in cuts by Sept. 30. Half are slated to be for defense programs.

Or so it seems since Friday (March 1, aka Sequester Day), given the congressional shrug that greeted the trigger pull on $1.2 trillion in federal budget cuts ($85 billion by Sept. 30).

The sequester ax fell after President Obama and Congress failed to agree a deficit reduction plan.

TGI Thursday

Shrug, actually, would be an understatement. A more offensive gesture comes to mind.

Because the day before the cuts were to take effect—at 2:07 p.m. ET Thursday (Feb. 28), to be precise—when thousands of workers nationwide were awaiting word on their futures, the House of Representatives adjourned for a long weekend.

So, all you California ship painters and blasters who just received notice that you might be laid off because of this deadlock?

Your members of Congress called it a (paid) workweek before you had your lunch Thursday.

Fortunately, the House voted to jump back into action at the crack of noon (ET) Monday (March 4).

Pledges, Prayers and the PRC

To be fair, the House did do some work Thursday before declaring it Miller Time. Members:

  • Prayed and recited the Pledge of Allegiance;
  • Discussed the “expectations” for this week’s legislative schedule;
  • Agreed to meet for “Morning-Hour Debate” at 12 p.m. sharp Monday;
  • Learned that the Senate had just passed H.R. 307, the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Reauthorization Act of 2013;
  • Approved an updated version of the Violence Against Women Act; and
  • Appointed new members to the Congressional Advisory Panel on the Governance of the Nuclear Security Enterprise; the British-American Interparliamentary Group; and the Congressional-Executive Commission on the People's Republic of China.

The Violence Against Women Act is important legislation and now heads to the President for his signature. But the other issues that filled the House’s busy half-day Thursday seem less urgent … especially when thousands and thousands of American family incomes are hanging in the balance.

What’s at Stake

Now, the full effects of this self-inflicted game of chicken are not yet known. Politically charged projections about impending sequester-related cuts abound, and most estimates do not see any cuts being felt for a month or so.

President Obama signs Budget Control Act of 2011

Pete Souza / White House

President Obama signs the Budget Control Act of 2011 in the Oval Office on Aug. 2, 2011. The law included the sequester provision, which was set to trigger Jan. 1 but was pushed back to March 1, 2013.

(For a refreshingly factual update, check out the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ report or the Office of Management and Budget report.)

But coatings and contractors are clearly vulnerable. Defense programs are set to take half of the total hit under the sequester plan, and military personnel funding is exempt.

So what’s left to cut? Things like maintenance of installations and ships. Public contracts. And a whole lot of contractors.

Meanwhile, over at the Department of Transportation, they’re looking at nearly $2 billion in cuts by the end of September. That means tens of millions of dollars less for bridge maintenance, highway repairs, rebuilding aid after Hurricane Sandy, and other industry projects.

BAE Systems

BAE Systems

Workers at BAE Systems' San Diego, CA, shipyard have already been notified of possible layoffs under the sequester.

As the American Subcontractors Association reported last week, “Army Corps of Engineers, rapid transit, military housing and facilities, water and wastewater infrastructure, school and other federally subsidized local public works, clean energy, and post-disaster reconstruction are some of the project types expected to be hardest hit by the mandatory cuts.”

The C-Word

And why? Because in some circles of “the world’s greatest deliberative body” (as the U.S. Congress has historically been known), compromise has become, figuratively speaking, a four-letter word.

This disaster has been brewing since August 2011, when the sequester was passed as part of the debt ceiling deal. The goal/gamble was to light a fire under the so-called “Supercommittee” (Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction) to make the hard choices on deficit reduction.

Dozens of proposals, hundreds of days, and tons of punditry later, one thing hasn’t changed: The ground rule among many members of the U.S. House that considering one dime of new revenue is a “non-starter.”

So, for example, that $7 billion additional tax break that the federal government just realized that oil and gas pipeline companies will enjoy through 2016? Untouchable.

Having individuals whose annual adjusted gross income exceeds $2 million pay an effective tax rate of 30 percent (the so-called Buffett Rule)? Hands off.

Ending corporate tax breaks for companies that send jobs overseas? No way, Jose.

A budget debate by the U.S. Congress that bans discussion of such issues? That’s not a non-starter. That’s a hostage situation.

And those layoff notices now rolling out of the printer for maintenance workers, contractors and others of you deemed expendable?

They’re the ransom notes.


More items for Program/Project Management

Tagged categories: American Subcontractors Association (ASA); Bridges; Contractors; Department of Defense (DOD); Department of Transportation (DOT); Economy; Government; Government contracts; Industrial Contractors; Infrastructure; Jobs; Painters; Painting Contractor; President Obama; Workers

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