Delay in Hill AFB furloughs leaves breathing room
Budget cuts • Friday deadline may pass without most painful cuts kicking in — but end of March could bring a double whammy.
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Washington • Thousands of federal workers in Rep. Rob Bishop's northern Utah district may soon be forced to take unpaid days off of work under the automatic budget cuts that go into effect Friday.

But few have called to complain about it to the congressman and there's been little in the way of a serious attempt in Washington to stop the cuts that members of both parties consider ham-handed.

Unlike the Wall Street bailout, the debt ceiling or the potential tax-hikes of the fiscal cliff that caused real fear on Capitol Hill, sequestration has instead spurred far more finger pointing than negotiations.

And Bishop says a big reason for that is that the most painful cuts, such as the potential furloughing of thousands of civilian workers at Hill Air Force Base or the Internal Revenue Service facility in Ogden, won't kick in immediately.

"Even though March 1 hits, you still got a month before it has any impact on real people, before furloughs hit," he said. "So yeah, it gives you a little more breathing room."

The government must cut $85 billion in the next seven months, with half of it coming from the Defense Department and half from domestic programs. Many agencies plan to furlough workers for as many as 22 days this year, but by law the government has to give workers 30 days notice.

And IRS furloughs reportedly won't be imposed until after tax season.

Sequestration will also result in smaller benefit checks for the long-term unemployed, but that's at least a few weeks away.

And sometime down the road, sequestration would have at least some impact on everything from air travel to funding for special education. But most of those impacts won't begin for another month.

Congress has not felt the immediate pressure to act that it has in past fiscal showdowns when failure to compromise could have led to economic collapse or broad tax increases.

"Because all of the impacts don't hit in one fell swoop on day one, that may be a factor in why there is less urgency to fix this right away," said Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah.

The Senate did hold two votes on dueling sequester plans on Thursday that both failed, something even the sponsors expected to happen.

President Barack Obama has spent weeks holding rallies and public events to decry the impacts of sequestration, but Friday marks the first time he has called congressional leaders to the White House to talk about a way to replace the sequester.

"In D.C., there is nothing like a deadline to drive decisions," said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah.

But the next deadline may be more meaningful. Congress has until March 27 to approve a spending plan or the government shuts down. And that just happens to be right around the time those furloughs of federal workers would kick in.

mcanham@sltrib.com

Twitter: @mattcanham