(WASHINGTON) — The Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday held a hearing on the wide-ranging impacts of the looming issue of sequestration that could take effect March 1. Senators held the hearing as Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., and ranking member Richard Shelby, R-Ala., are considering legislation to replace sequestration.
Office of Management and Budget federal controller Danny Werfel also joined the hearing, along with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan and Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter.
“I think it’s a bad idea. I think it’s bad policy. I think it’s bad economic policy. I think it’s bad governance policy. And I really don’t like it,” Sen. Mikulski said Thursday of the sequester.
“Sequestration is bad policy, and the administration believes the Congress should pass balanced, bipartisan deficit reduction to avoid it,” OMB federal controller Danny Werfel added.
Werfel testified that if the sequester is allow to occur, it would have “significant and destructive consequences for domestic investments, national security and core government services.”
Sec. Napolitano warned in her testimony that the effects of sequestration would have wide-ranging impacts at DHS, which could impact international trade with increased wait times at borders and a reduction in hours worked by customs officials.
“At the major international airports, average wait times to clear customs will increase by 50 percent. And in our busiest airports like Newark and JFK, LAX and Chicago O’Hare, peak wait times, which can already reach over two hours, could grow to four hours or more,” Napolitano said.
She added that wait times at major land and sea ports would be forced to shut down during core hours, with delays in container examinations increasing up to five days. Napolitano said this would ultimately result in “increased cost to the trade community and reduced availability of consumer goods and raw materials.”
“The plain fact of the matter is the administration has put record amounts of resources at the [Southwest] border. As someone who comes from the border I can say that needs to be sustained and built upon,” Napolitano told the committee members.
Duncan said that cuts to the Department of Education would harm children.
“None of these are good choices,” Duncan said. “We have to invest. And so the idea that somehow we can kick the — you know, kick the can down the road and just try a little more flexibility leaves us in a situation which, just again, many hundreds of thousands of young people will be hurt.”
Asked by Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., about the cuts of USDA food and meat inspectors, OMB’s Werfel testified that the way the program is funded there is no way to find additional funds to keep inspectors working.
“And there is no way in which to find other sources of funds because 88 percent of the entire budget are those very people that need to be at those meat plants doing that inspection to keep them open,” Werfel said, adding, “So this is one of the very tangible and clear and significant impacts of sequester is that — is that this division within USDA will not be able to make its core mission of sending the inspectors to these locations, and therefore, under appropriate laws and regulations, there’ll be stoppages of work within those areas. So it’s a very serious concern.”
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