February 28th, 2013
06:35 PM ET
1 year ago

Questions about forced budget cuts? Ask Tom

(CNN) - Confused about those forced federal spending cuts which kicked in on Friday?

CNN’s Tom Foreman is answering questions about sequester on CNN and CNN.com.

Q: “If I try to apply for unemployment benefits on Monday, will anyone be there to take my call?”
– Ron Dailey via Facebook


TOM: This is a big question considering that unemployment remains a serious problem, and potentially thousands of people may lose jobs as the budget cuts settle in.

So where to begin? The short answer is, yes, someone will be there to take your call. Depending on how your state handles the sequester, probably nothing will change for at least a few days and possibly weeks.

We’ve spoken to several state labor departments and to paraphrase, the message from each was the same: No one has been notified of layoffs. We don’t really know how this is going to impact us, and we’re waiting on guidance from the federal government. We will have people ready to process new unemployment claims even if we wind up with fewer people assigned to that task and the wait gets a little longer. Maybe we’ll encourage people to use automated, computerized filing systems a bit more.

That said, eventually some effect is likely to occur. The federal government helps pay for the administration of state unemployment funds, so as the feds cut back that will mean less cash to handle that task.

On a related note, about 3.7 million people are currently on regular unemployment right now, and the National Employment Law Project says their benefits will not be affected. However, about two million people who are among the long term unemployed will see their checks reduced by about 11% around April if all goes as expected.

One more item: The Labor Department will also stop producing some reports tracking mass layoffs, green jobs, and how the U.S. job market compares with other countries.

Submit your questions now in the comments section below, via the CNNPolitics page on Facebook or by Twitter using the hashtag #AskTomCNN. Then check back on for answers.

Q: Does Congressional pay get cut??

TOM: We’ve had a lot of questions about whether or not members of Congress will join in the suffering as this budget pruning gets underway. Mathelm asks on Twitter, “Does Congressional pay get cut?" IN a somewhat more pointed fashion, Drefly tweets, “ How can the American people be assured that the salaries of Congress are cut 20%?”

The answers, in order, are “no” and “you can’t.” Sorry to break the news.

Even though members of Congress shoulder a great deal of the blame for the situation (or credit, depending on your political persuasion,) when it comes to this matter their hands are tied. Congressional pay is exempt from the sequester because the 27th Amendment says it must be. By law, changes in Congressional pay can take place only when the next Congress come in. The law was set up this way to keep members of Congress from giving themselves big pay hikes, but it also means no one in Congress can take a cut now, despite some saying they want to voluntarily do so.

Perhaps they can take the money and then donate to a cause, such as the federal government’s general fund (and yes, that is legal) but that is different than not getting paid in the first place.

Q: "Please give an example of a cut the sequester will cause in total dollars before cut and after cut."
– Birdman9 via Twitter

TOM: Many of our questions have come from people who are concerned about getting past the percentages to understand precisely how much is being cut in real dollars.

Since we’ve heard so much noise from the Transportation Department about possible delays for air travelers, let’s look at the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA budget is $15.9 billion dollars. Under the sequester, it gets hacked by $1 billion, leaving it at $14.9 billion dollars. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and his team say the results will be profound; few controllers available to handle the flow of planes, possible long delays during peak hours at big airports, and the shuttering of some towers at smaller airfields. Point of reference, though: $14.9 billion dollars is pretty much what the FAA budget was in 2008, when there were actually more people flying.

Q: High school art teacher…I’m screwed right?
– Knoxieblu via Twitter

TOM: The Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, stepped into an ant hill when he suggested a few days ago that teachers were already being laid off because of the budget cuts. Turns out that he had precious little evidence to back his claim and in the one school district he cited the story was a good bit more complicated than that. In any event, the talk of tens of thousands of school employees getting pink slips has clearly rattled many parents.

Sean McGruder, on Facebook, weighed in. “Our local superintendent made this statement, ‘The loss of federal dollars through automatic cuts on Friday could have devastating effects on local education from head start to high school, taking money from programs that serve low-income students and those with disabilities.' Can you tell me if this is true?"

It is true, but only if you read that statement carefully. Many of the efforts to educate low-income students and those with disabilities are funded with federal dollars. Those dollars are subject to the sequester, and when those cuts hit the neighborhood level, yes, children may well suffer. But it would be easy for any parent to make a leap from that superintendent’s statement and assume this means all teachers are at risk.

Knoxieblu tweeted that very concern. “High school art teacher…I’m screwed right?”

Not necessarily. Most schools get the vast bulk of their funding from state and local governments, not the feds. If your school district is struggling to pay its bills, that is the real threat to the teachers your kids know and love. Ripples from the sequester won’t help, but in all likelihood they would also not be the primary cause for teachers outside of the specialties mentioned above losing jobs.

Watch The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer weekdays at 4pm to 6pm ET and Saturdays at 6pm ET. For the latest from The Situation Room click here.


Filed under: TV-The Situation Room
soundoff (48 Responses)
  1. larry

    Tell me do the conggress get cuts also'there the ones that cant get things done'at least stop there pay tell thengs are done.

    March 1, 2013 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  2. boatman

    Are any of the "cuts" personally impacting the President or members of Congress? Since they are the ones ultimately responsible for the state we are in, they should have a stake in the game as well as the people who put them there.

    March 1, 2013 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  3. linda

    Mitch you wont get my vote no more

    March 1, 2013 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  4. Deanna from Houston

    It seems that the Republicans and the Democrates in Congress are never willing to negotiate. And we are seeing an instance of this now with the sequester. Is Pride the cause of the inability to come together and negotiate? Are the men and women of congress so prideful that they refuse to set there differences apart for the greater good of the country?

    March 1, 2013 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  5. linda

    It wont be gradually woman

    March 1, 2013 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  6. linda

    If they make a decision before march 27 will none of this happen or what

    March 1, 2013 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  7. Brian

    Tom 2 questions:1) was there anything in initial sequester bill that dictated where cuts had to come from? and 2) correct me if I am wrong but isn't the 85 billion spread over 10 years meaning 8.5 billion/year which represents less that .035% of our 16 trillion dollar debt how than can anybody in Washington justify the outrageous statements regarding the effect on the economy.

    March 1, 2013 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  8. Name

    Been working most if the day,did they explain how they have an extra 60 million for syria?

    March 1, 2013 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  9. DrPhill

    Yo Tom, why don't you tell these poor people the truth. There are NO budget cuts, and you know it. They're simply increasing spending less than they had planned and calling it a cut. It's called baseline budgeting...look it up and stop lying.

    March 1, 2013 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  10. Debbie

    Just heard you say that military wasn't affected... NOT TRUE. . Full-time National Guard members have been told they will be furloughed. Those who respond to fires, hurricanes, and other national disasters are getting their pay cut and being told to expect to be part-time for the next 22 weeks. If this continues, as planned, for the next 10 years, then they will lose 14 months of pay.

    March 1, 2013 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  11. Tina

    My husband is employed at Tobyhanna Army Base in Northeast Pa. He is employed as an army civilian. Does this mean that he will be loosing his job? If he does, what are the chances of him ever being called back?

    March 1, 2013 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  12. Jerry

    Hello Tom, With these budget cuts will it affect my military retirement.

    March 1, 2013 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  13. civilian

    You said military wont be affected. I am civilian works for army.yes we will be affected we will go hungry we will lose our homes we will get cut 400 dollars per pay you are wrong we will be hurt

    March 1, 2013 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  14. DrPhill

    Jeez, here's a braindead Art teacher who is so clueless that she/he thinks the Feds fund schools. No wonder kids are graduating high school stupider than when they started. Knoxieblue oughtta be fired.

    March 1, 2013 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  15. rick

    what every happen to excutive order

    March 1, 2013 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  16. Layla

    Those National Guard members are also the same folks who've served in Iraq and Afghanistan... some just returning only to be told they're going to be furloughed... SHAME ON CONGRESS

    March 1, 2013 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  17. Anonymous

    Hello Tom. Other than the election process, what legal means do we (the taxpayers) have to fire or impeach these indiviuals? they work for us, but how do we hold them accountable?

    March 1, 2013 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  18. rick

    let the senators and congress do the fighting on borders and countries they can afford it they didn't get there pay cut every on else come home

    March 1, 2013 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  19. Dave

    Hello Tom! Other than elections, how do we (the taxpayer) fire or impeach these people that are suppose to be working for us? How do we hold them accountable? Are there other legal remedies we have available?

    March 1, 2013 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  20. Bob the builder

    If i do the math it looks like we are talking about a 2.5% across the board cut. How much was the increase last year?

    My household and my business can cut 2.5% without laying people off.

    March 1, 2013 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  21. gajb

    You can't get us out of our fiscal mess by increasing spending. Obama and Congress need to be looking at ways to scale back each and every Department, Commission, Advisory Boards, etc. with absolutely NO increase to any government agency, nor the Executive Branch.

    March 1, 2013 05:28 pm at 5:28 pm |
  22. Art M. in SF

    During the Iraq War, Haliburton was given a no-bid contract, and handed hundreds of billions of dollars. They were accused, and even will admit to not knowing were 10's of billions of that money went to.

    My question: Has anyone ever gone after that money to get it returned to the government? Since several of the cuts could be paid for IN FULL by the amount of money that Haliburton was allowed to embezzle from the government, why are no Republicans clamoring for this? Is it because they were IN on it in the first place and were able to profit from the pilfering of monies?

    Better question: Not only why aren't Republicans clamoring for this money – why aren't Democrats crying out for Republicans to be doing so?

    EVEN BETTER QUESTION: Why isn't the media ever bringing this embezzlement up?

    March 1, 2013 05:31 pm at 5:31 pm |
  23. dwight

    Art M. also poses a good question. Think of all of the money that is sent to the UN and how little is actually spent on the programs to help feed people. The problem is that you cannot get it back.

    March 1, 2013 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
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