By Steve Begnoche
U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga and his Republican counterparts are looking beyond the sequester cuts now filtering into place and are set to approve a continuing resolution that embraces the $85 billion in cuts in a budget to make it through the rest of the current fiscal year that ends Sept. 30.
Huizenga continues to say the way cuts are laid out under the sequester bill that went into effect Friday at 11 p.m. "isn't the smartest way to cut," but adds people should look at what didn't happen as that most recent fiscal deadline passed: teachers didn't get pink slips, planes didn't fall out of the sky and other drastic effects he said forecast on "doom and gloom tour" by the President didn't happen.
Calling it an inelegant way to make cuts, Huizenga said all parties did agree to these cuts if no other plan could be worked out. None was.
"I'm comfortable where we're at," he told the Ludington Daily News Tuesday. "The question is how to make it better."
He predicts the continuing resolution to fund the remainder of this year will pass the House this week, possibly today. It will then go to the Senate and the President for their approval or changes.
As proposed by the Republican- controlled House, the continuing resolution will provide federal agencies more flexibility in how to reduce spending to meet sequester goals. It maintains the same general overall amount of cuts, but rearranges some priorities -- sparing some areas of military readiness, for instance -- and placing more of the burden of the cuts on discretionary portions of the budget.
"It will be more flexible," he said of its approach.
He said it is the House's responsibility to initiate federal spending bills. The Senate and the President get them next. The House, he said, will do its work and if the continuing resolution fails and government shuts down at the end of March for lack of an approved continuing resolution the blame will be the Democratic- controlled Senate's and/ or the President's.
While the cuts haven't proven to be the end of the world as we know it, Huizenga acknowledged the cuts are real, and there will be effects felt in many agencies and organizations funded with federal money.
He said his and other Congressional offices won't escape the reduction.
He's expecting about a 10 percent cut -- though the actual amount isn't yet known -- in funding his office and he said he's talked to his staff about what that might mean.
The expected cut, along with about 11.5 percent less in funding than his predecessor Pete Hoekstra received for the same office, means Huizenga will have $250,000 to $275,000 less than Hoekstra had for Congressional office operations in D.C. and in the district. Congressional offices are funded by a formula that takes many factors into account including location, geographic size of the district and more, he said. He expects the Michigan 2nd Congressional office will be funded ultimately at a level of about $1.2 million after the cuts.
"We have to be smarter how we are doing the work," he said of his office. "It all costs money." All includes, staff, office space, travel of his own and of his staff, what mailings look like, telephone town halls and other means of communication with constituents.
He said he is operating with 16 full-time staff members, down from the 18 Hoekstra had.
"When we are spending like we are spending," he said of the federal government in general, "everybody is going to feel something .... we need to be smarter about how to spend the limited resources we have. That is something we are trying to address with the continuing resolution."
According to The Associated Press, the Republican CR plan would leave in place automatic cuts of 5 percent to domestic agencies and 7.8 percent to the Pentagon. But the House Republicans' legislation would award the Defense Department its detailed 2013 budget while other agencies would be frozen in place at 2012 levels.
The across-the-board cuts would cut $85 billion in spending from the government's $3.6 trillion budget for this year. It would concentrate the cuts in the approximately $1 trillion allocated to the day-to-day agency operating budgets set by Congress each year. The AP reports those socalled discretionary accounts received big boosts in the first two years of Obama's presidency, when Democrats controlled Congress, but have borne the brunt of the cuts approved as Obama and Republicans have grappled over the budget.
The AP also reported that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says the cuts would slow the economy by 0.6 percent and cost about 750,000 jobs.
Huizenga has long maintained that the federal government must cut spending and can't sustain the large deficit spending experienced in recent years.
He said the cuts trim the overspending by only 7 percent.
"What avoids any kind of shutdown is figuring out the budget at this current level," he said of the spending amounts after sequester cuts are subtracted.
"It's the first time we're below $1 trillion in discretionary spending in four or five years," he said.
That level of spending, he said, was agreed to either through super committee or the budget control act passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama.
He said since, in essence, the level of funding has been agreed to, "The question is how to get smart about it."
Senate Democrats and the President, who still wants additional revenues to avoid cuts in discretionary spending, might disagree.
The public, he said, hasn't been contacting his office on the matter.
"The drama is exhausting to everybody, the American people included," Huizenga said.
A positive step, he said, is the Senate agreeing to put on paper a budget of its own. Once that and the President's budget, not yet presented, are known, priorities can be discussed.
"It's a public policy debate, not a political debate," he said once that happens. "From that standpoint that's positive, that's good."
And even while the continuing resolution is worked on, the House will start its budget for 2014 trying to deal with the current budget and next year's concurrently.
"We're going to be walking and chewing and gum at the same time," he said.