With $85 billion in across-the-board federal cuts set to begin on March 1st, Senator Lisa Murkowski today pressed administration officials about the rationale being used and attempted to get hard specifics about where those cuts will be made. In a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee -- one which Murkowski had asked the Committee Chairs to hold -- Murkowski used the opportunity to prod the witnesses to give more details or explain their process.
Senator Murkowski opened up her questioning by pointing out that as the Pentagon evaluates cuts, they continue to move forward on the costly proposal to move the F-16 Aggressor Squadron from Eielson Air Force Base to Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson -- a move the Air Force admitted would cost millions of dollars immediately.
In her question to Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, she laid out her case. "You're supposed to be prioritizing spending, and yet you've got the Department of Defense moving forward with a plan that costs money rather than taking an enterprise-wide look," said Murkowski, closing by saying "you can probably sense my frustration here!"
Deputy Secretary Carter said that the Aggressor squadron proposal predated the sequestration process, and acknowledged that there have been disagreements on how the proposal has moved forward. He also informed her that the Air Force has been directed to not move F-16s in accordance with the Senate Appropriations Committee's direction. When he concluded, Senator Murkowski responded "Don't make short-term decisions based on numbers that just don't hold up."
Senator Murkowski then turned to the issue of the unique trust responsibilities the federal government possesses in terms of attending to Alaska Native medical needs like the Indian Health Service, given that VA care is off limits for sequestration cuts and Medicare cuts are capped at 2 percent. She asked Office of Management and Budget Controller Daniel Werfel "What actions is I.H.S. taking to minimize the impacts of the delivery of health care on our Indian Community -- given the trust responsibility which is different from other responsibilities?"
Werfel responded that he has advised federal agencies like I.H.S. to "figure out how to implement the sequester in a way that will help you best serve your mission while balancing all priorities but there's no way to completely protect the mission because these abrupt cuts are enormously disruptive."