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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Editorial: Furloughs at Fairchild show need to fix sequester

The circular firing squad of budget sequestration has claimed its latest victim, as brainless spending cuts hit civilian employees of the Defense Department last Monday, and will continue to do so until Sept. 21.

This flurry of furloughs is the brainchild of Congress, which lit the fuse on across-the-board spending cuts as an incentive to reach a compromise on more thoughtful reductions. But in this age of destructive partisanship, the budget talks fizzled and sequestration detonated.

To budget watchers, the furloughs represent the percentage points needed to meet mandated spending caps. To the 660,000 civilian defense employees affected, it’s real pain – an unpaid day off a week, which works out to a 20 percent pay cut for nearly three months. About 660 workers attached to Fairchild Air Force Base will feel it. So will the regional economy, when those families limit their spending.

The across-the-board spending cuts are also hurting defense readiness. Fairchild reports a reduction in flying hours, maintenance and staffing. However, this may not even be the worst of it, warns Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, because the Pentagon is facing another $52 billion in cuts for fiscal year 2014, which begins in October. That’s on top of the $37 billion mandated under sequestration this year. If the congressional impasse persists, defense spending will be cut by $500 billion over the next decade.

Furloughs could become a way of life.

The problem with sequestration is that it treats all functions of government equally, though some items, such as Social Security, Medicaid and veterans’ benefits, are exempted. Congressional leaders in both parties figured this solution was so stupid that it would force a smarter deal.

One of those leaders was U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Budget Committee, who is now urging Republicans to come to the table to consider targeted spending cuts, along with ending some tax exemptions on corporations and the wealthy. We don’t expect Republicans to agree to the deal, but they should agree to talk.

Back in March, the Government Accountability Office released a report highlighting government practices that waste billions of dollars. We’d rather Congress cut or consolidate some of the 44 job-training programs, 80 transportation programs for the poor and disabled and 82 programs to promote teacher quality, rather than reduce childhood vaccinations, slow the Hanford cleanup and impede critical defense missions, such as the one performed at Fairchild.

Sequestration ensures that some government waste will survive, while meaningful functions are crippled. Congress must end this war on common sense.

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