By Scott Harvey
During the first of three stops in Missouri Thursday, U.S. Senator Roy Blunt addressed reporters in Springfield on the impacts from the sequester and protecting private sector jobs.
The Senator was last in Springfield meeting with defense contractors ahead of the looming sequester, which went into effect March 1. He says now that Congress has updated the defense appropriations process to today's priorities, companies are dealing with the spending cuts better than they would have.
"If you ask either defense contractors or any member of the military about the problem of the line-by-line cutting, the so-called sequester, they will say "well that's a problem.' But another problem, and some will say an even bigger problem, is the fact that up until last week the Congress hadn't updated the categories where you spend the money for a long time."
Blunt said the real test this summer for defense contractors, as well as government employees and furloughed employees, will be if the House and Senate can actually pass the appropriations bills.
"And if they'll pass those appropriations bills below the level that the law says is the most that you can spend in the discretionary budget, there'd be no line-by-line cutting. And it wouldn't have been this year either if we would have obeyed the law," Blunt said.
Blunt mentioned the Senate's recent approval of a budget provision he and Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Arkansas) combined on to exempt the USDA's food inspectors from mandated cuts.
"The day the federal food safety inspector doesn't show up in facilities that are inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, not a single person can work. That's 40,000 people in Missouri, 500,000 people in the country. If they would have all missed the 15 days that the department said they'd be furloughed, the food safety inspectors, it would have been $400 million in pay."
One recently announced side effect of sequestration is the FAA's decision that 149 federal contract towers will close beginning April 7, including the towers currently operating in Branson and Columbia. Blunt feels there's a chance that won't happen locally.
"Those airports can contract with airports that are not all that far away by air travel standards. Like the Columbia airport, if that tower would close, Springfield, Kansas City, or St. Louis, I'm told, could run that tower."
Blunt says he's trying to find out what the alternative could be for the Branson airport.
The Senator, who was back in his home state over the congressional spring break, says private sector jobs need to continue to be the number one domestic priority upon reconvening, adding that more needs to be done to create certainty about the economy.
"Now we've got permanent tax law for the first time in a long time; that's helpful. Regulations that don't make sense should be resisted by the federal government. And we should do everything we can to take advantage of this great new opportunity of more American energy."
Blunt cited the abundance of shale oil and natural gas that wasn't believed to have existed a decade ago, but "can make a huge difference in our economy." He wants more jobs for creating more American energy, but jobs that also evolve from a consistent, long-term supply of energy.