The Washington Post

Democrats want Congress to come back and stop ‘sequester’

This item has been updated since its original posting.

With nine days to go before $85 billion in automatic federal spending cuts begin, some Democrats are calling on Republican leaders to reconvene the House immediately and find a way to avert the spending reductions known as "sequester."

Both the House and Senate are on recess this week -- or what House leaders officially call a "District Work Period" -- because both chambers traditionally break during the week of the Presidents' Day holiday. The congressional schedule was set before lawmakers and the White House agreed on the March 1 sequester start date.

A view of the U.S. Capitol Building, March 25, 2012 in Washington, D.C. (Brendan Smialowski -- AFP/Getty Images)


Lacking control of the House, Democrats often call on Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) (who sets the House calendar) to cancel a recess and stay in Washington to work on legislation designed to bolster the economy. Senate Republicans, also lacking control of their chamber, also have called on Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) to cancel Senate recesses.

So House Democrats tried again Wednesday, as Rep. Rob Andrews (D-N.J.) called sequester "an unnecessary self-inflicted wound on the United States economy."

"Congress should come back to Washington to fix the problem,” said Andrews, whose district is home to several government contracting firms.

Andrews wouldn't say where he was -- back home in New Jersey or at his desk in Washington -- but Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.) made clear he's on Capitol Hill waiting for a solution. The apparent lack of concern among his GOP colleagues means "It's like the airplane is going down, and we’re taking a break to watch the in-flight movie," he said.

Cartwright's district includes a General Dynamics factory building parts for the U.S. military's Abrams tanks. During a recent visit to the factory, workers pressed him on why Congress isn't acting to avoid the cuts.

"The workers were stopping me -- members of the United Auto Workers -- were asking me, what’s going to happen with their jobs, and what are we doing about the sequester? And I was dumbfounded, because the House isn’t doing anything, we’re on vacation this week," he said.

Andrews, Cartwright and other House Democrats shared with reporters in a midday conference call some of the fears and adverse affects of the sequester they're hearing about back home.

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), the most senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said her suburban New York City district is home to several hospitals likely to see reductions in federal grants for medical research. Several hospital executives have approached her with concerns -- as have airplane travelers who use the three major New York-area airports.

"Air-traffic controllers will be laid off. This again will have devastating affects on the economy," she said. "Planes will be slowed down, fewer planes will be able to fly."

Both the National Institutes of Health and Federal Aviation Administration are expecting significant cuts if the sequester begins as scheduled. FAA officials and air-traffic controller union representatives have said furloughs or layoffs are likely.

Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), whose Tidewater-area district is home to federal agencies, military installations and dozens of major military contractors, said a local economist told him that the economic setbacks from sequester would rival the recession in 2008 and 2009.

"Being on recess during this is absurd," Scott said, adding later: "We should be at work. It’s going to be hard. If you want to have a substitute for a $1.2 trillion sequester, you have to come up with some alternative that’s not as bad as the sequester. … You can’t decide this in a one or two-day session. We need to be at work, we need to be working on a solution."

For his part, Boehner reiterated Wednesday that he also remains opposed to the budget cuts. In response to the Defense Department's tentative plans to furlough 800,000 civilian employees once sequestration begins, Boehner noted that the House has twice before passed plans to avert the sequester.

"Despite dire warnings from his own Secretary of Defense for more than a year that the sequester would ‘hollow out’ our military, the president has yet to put forward a specific plan that can pass his Democratic-controlled Senate, and has exerted no pressure on the Democratic leadership of the Senate to actually pass legislation to replace the sequester he proposed," Boehner said in a statement. "As the commander-in-chief, President Obama is ultimately responsible for our military readiness, so it’s fair to ask: what is he doing to stop his sequester that would ‘hollow out’ our Armed Forces?”

House Democrats can do little officially to present or pass plans to avert the sequester, but the caucus's Steering and Policy Committee plans to meet Thursday afternoon to discuss the potential affects of the budget cuts.

Follow Ed O'Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost


What does 'sequester' mean? (An Edsplainer)

Ed O’Keefe is covering the 2016 presidential campaign, with a focus on Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates. He's covered presidential and congressional politics since 2008. Off the trail, he's covered Capitol Hill, federal agencies and the federal workforce, and spent a brief time covering the war in Iraq.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Get Zika news by email

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Show Comments
Republicans debated Saturday night. The South Carolina GOP primary and the Nevada Democratic caucuses are next on Feb. 20. Get caught up on the race.
The Post's Dan Balz says...
Rarely has the division between Trump and party elites been more apparent. Trump trashed one of the most revered families in Republican politics and made a bet that standing his ground is better than backing down. Drawing boos from the audience, Trump did not flinch. But whether he will be punished or rewarded by voters was the unanswerable question.
GOP candidates react to Justice Scalia's death
I don't know how he knows what I said on Univision because he doesn't speak Spanish.
Sen. Marco Rubio, attacking Sen. Ted Cruz in Saturday night's very heated GOP debate in South Carolina. Soon after, Cruz went on a tirade in Spanish.
The Fix asks The State's political reporter where the most important region of the state is.
The State's Andy Shain says he could talk about Charleston, which represents a little bit of everything the state has to offer from evangelicals to libertarians, and where Ted Cruz is raising more money than anywhere else. In a twist, Marco Rubio is drawing strong financial support from more socially conservative Upstate. That said, Donald Trump is bursting all the conventional wisdom in the state. So maybe the better answer to this question is, "Wherever Trump is."
Past South Carolina GOP primary winners
South Carolina polling averages
Donald Trump leads in the first state in the South to vote, where he faces rivals Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.
South Carolina polling averages
The S.C. Democratic primary is Feb. 27. Clinton has a significant lead in the state, whose primary falls one week after the party's Nevada caucuses.
62% 33%
The complicated upcoming voting schedule
Feb. 20

Democrats caucus in Nevada; Republicans hold a primary in South Carolina.

Feb. 23

Republicans caucus in Nevada.

Feb. 27

Democrats hold a primary in South Carolina.

Upcoming debates
Feb 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

March 3: GOP debate

on Fox News, in Detroit, Mich.

March 6: Democratic debate

on CNN, in Flint, Mich.

Campaign 2016
Where the race stands
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Close video player
Now Playing

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.