U.S. Rep. Denny Heck spent his time off this week delivering a message to small business owners in the Puget Sound: “We’re going over the fiscal cliff.”
The Democrat said he is upset that Congress is on recess instead of remaining in session to pass a plan to avoid cuts, now only nine days away. Forced cuts known as the sequester totaling $85 billion will fall March 1 unless Congress acts.
State officials told lawmakers last week that Washington state is expecting to receive $118 million less in federal grants; cuts will range from 5 to 12 percent for programs like early learning and transportation.
The Department of Defense will be hit the hardest. The Army, in Washington alone, could lose $461 million. Lakewood could feel the sequester especially hard because many of its residents earn their paychecks at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
“The largest employer, as everybody sitting in this room knows, in South Puget Sound is Joint Base Lewis-McCord,” Heck said in Lakewood on Thursday.
Almost 10,000 civilian employees at the base would be forced to take 22 furlough days between mid-April and October — more than a month of no pay.
“That’s the equivalent of a 20 percent cut and pay for 10,000 people. Or if you want to look at it another way, it’s the same as 2,000 people getting their layoff notices,” Heck said.
Lakewood businesses are expecting a ripple effect from the federal cuts. Heck toured Tactical Trailer, a small manufacturing plant that sells special equipment to Joint Base Lewis-McChord service members.
He also visited Burs Restaurant. The restaurant’s owner, Tim Tweten, said close to 40 percent of his customers are work at the base or are indirectly connected to it.
While Tweten said he hasn’t felt the effects from the thousands of dollars in wages lost yet, he expects them soon.
“People plan their budgets 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, when they can go on vacation, when they can take their families out. We’ll see these cuts and feel them,” he said.
Tweten said the government should be increasing jobs instead of laying people off from work.
“That’s the responsibility of government, doing all they can to get people back to work and feeling good about their future, not pulling the fish out of their mouth just as they’re about to take a bite,” Tweten said.
Both Tweten and Heck view the sequestration as avoidable. Heck compared the sequestration to a “poison pill”; it was intended as merely an incentive for the federal government to take action and rein in its spending, and to find a long-term solution.
Discussions are expected to resume next week when Congress returns.