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El Paso Protest Details Sequestration Fears

News Article

Location: Washington, DC

Members of the National Treasury Employees Union Chapter 143 and U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-El Paso, on Saturday spoke against federal spending cuts that would affect more than 20,000 federal employees and their families in El Paso.

O'Rourke and about 20 federal employees and their families met at the Chamizal National Memorial, with a backdrop of long lines and slow-moving traffic at the Bridge of the Americas.

Congress' failure to reach an agreement on the budget crisis triggered $85 billion in spending cuts.

The cuts kicked in March 1, but several agencies have tried to delay their impact.

O'Rourke said further cuts would affect the region's economy and about 100,000 residents in El Paso.

Brad Gaetzke, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said federal employees have already had to help fund the government through wage freezes and other means to try to help balance the budget.

"We've already helped the federal government and assisted them $103 billion through our wage freezes three years ago," Gaetzke said. "And they are looking to continue those wage freezes, for the next six years, and take 20 furlough days a year. Enough is enough!"

Daniel Evans, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection employee, said he and his wife, Emma Torres, have gone without their medication because of current wage freezes. Evans has heart problems and diabetes, and Torres has lupus. Both worry about what further cuts could mean for their family.

"I've gone three weeks without my medication," Evans said. "And as a diabetic, it's not the smartest thing to do. But what can I do if it's a choice between buying my medication or my wife's lupus medication and buying groceries for my kids. And now they want to take more money away."
Already, about 20,400 federal employees in El Paso -- including civilians working with the Army, airport personnel, CBP employees and contractors -- face pay cuts and furloughs.

"These arbitrary cuts hurt people like you and through extension hurt everyone else in this country, and they are absolutely wrong," O'Rourke said. "We can probably all agree that we have a big spending problem in this country. We have more than $16 trillion in debt. We are running trillion-dollar annual deficits and certainly there are ways that we can run the government more efficiently."

O'Rourke said he has worked with Congress in an effort to soften the cuts, and on Thursday he and U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, were successful.
On Thursday, a continuing resolution passed that would authorize five U.S.-Mexico border communities, including El Paso, to enter a private-public partnership with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The resolution would allow the city of El Paso, businesses and organizations to fund overtime and additional positions for federal employees.

The resolution would protect employees of the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs and CBP from drastic cuts.

"We will still see cuts, but the Department of Homeland Security and the CBP will be able to organize these cuts and personnel in a way that will help soften the blow," O'Rourke said. "I'm pretty sure that we will not see 20 days of furloughs and we are going to see a number below that. We are likely still to see cuts in overtime, and I know that hurts you and the safety of our borders and the growth of the economy here in El Paso, but it's better than it would have been otherwise."

O'Rourke said he wants to continue working to replace sequestration.

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