February 28th, 2013
06:35 PM ET
5 years 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.

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soundoff (48 Responses)
  1. Name lynn

    Did you mean ask obama. What question could tom answer that obama could not answer obama is the president or did the people miss something.

    February 28, 2013 07:03 pm at 7:03 pm |
  2. T

    .......think about it........when the USA builds a BOMB and drops it on Buttflockistan, that bomb is GONE FOREVER, but we used American workers and American products.............BUT

    ...When we build a BRIDGE in Ohio with that SAME BOMB MONEY......we employ Americans and use American products.......AND.............that new bridge IMPROVES OUR INFRASTRUCTURE and SAVES us money for 100+ YEARS..............

    February 28, 2013 07:33 pm at 7:33 pm |
  3. Don't blame me, I'm Obama!

    Gotta be GWB's fault!

    February 28, 2013 07:54 pm at 7:54 pm |
  4. cbr

    Congress got out of town as fast as possible. Members will not have to answer any questions. Of course, the most important question is what will they do about the economy now? When will they do something? Now who is to blame for the problems. I vote for Congress and every person in America needs to contact their Senator or House Member and tell them to sit down and solve the problems now. Stop spending our tax money! Do your job!

    February 28, 2013 08:26 pm at 8:26 pm |
  5. Joanna

    I understand that certain DoD civilian empoyees will be furloughed (no work / no pay) one day per week for as many weeks as the sequestration cuts are in effect. That is a 20% non-recoverable pay cut. Are similar pay cuts slated to happen at other federal agencies?

    February 28, 2013 09:06 pm at 9:06 pm |
  6. Lauren

    Besides not voting for Congress members when they are up for reelection, is there any other way we can hold them, and the President, accountable for not doing their job in passing a budget? It is not one side or the other to blame, Congress as a whole has failed the people they were hired to represent.

    February 28, 2013 09:24 pm at 9:24 pm |
  7. Sue

    Please, please tell me that politians wages are part of the cut. Then maybe we can get some volunteers to make the country good again.

    March 1, 2013 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  8. Jim

    Let's be honest, the idea for the sequester came from the WH...........heck Obama even threatened to veto any change to it...........now he's not only opposed to it, he's blaming the GOP for it...........Really?...........And now he's upset because the sequester goes directly against his desire to redistribute the wealth in this country....and by that I mean take form those who have it, and give to those who don't.............and his reasoning is this: IT's FAIR............Really?.......
    Wake up America, that's his agenda pure and simple............

    March 1, 2013 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  9. ItsAMirage

    First of all, lets refresh a few key concepts that MOST PEOPLE here didn't learn in Govt class back in high school........

    Legislative Branch makes the laws.

    Executive Branch enforces the laws.

    Judicial interprets the laws.

    So, base on this cluster(insert explecitive ) that we just got too......who's really at fault here?!!!!

    HINT HINT!!!! What laws right?!!!!

    March 1, 2013 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  10. Robert Doyle

    What affect does sequester have on Congressional, pensions, and office expenses? Do they have to take a cut like everyone else? If not why not they overpaid as mit is for their amount of time they work and what they accomplish.

    March 1, 2013 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  11. Civil Servant

    I am a federal employee and am about to be furloughed one day a week, cutting 20% of my pay. Anyone have a room available my family and I can stay in after we lose our home becasue I canot pay the mortgage?

    March 1, 2013 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  12. Mary Cardea

    Is this going to stop my social security disability.
    Thank You

    March 1, 2013 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  13. Cynthia

    I really don't understand why it is so difficult to figure out. You want to pass a new healthcare plan, all you have to do to get all the people to agree is provide them what you get. So if our tax money is good enough for Congress, Senate, The President, and family to have the coverage they need, why can't we taxpayers have the same healthcare plan for the people of this country?
    Also, if you want to let the cuts happen today, then lets see some cuts happening in our government body (Senate, Congress, President, etc...) that demonstrates to the people of this country that you are feeling the pain as well. This issue is being used, like all the other recent issues, to keep everyone off the real issue. Our government is not going to get anything done, if they are thinking of themselves. They were elected to go to Washington, and do what is right for US!! Not them!!
    Just give us what you are getting, and we will all be fine. I would love a pension that allows me to retire on endless amounts of money, that my spouse gets after I die. I would also love to be able to have the kind of healthcare coverage that allows for eye, dental, health coverage and everything is covered! I would also love to be able to have an abundance of paid days off work, that even if my job isn't done, I can just leave, and not have any guilt about leaving things undone! I don't have any accountability, or responsibility to the ones that gave me the job! Pretty sweet deal!
    Why can't we all have what our government officials have?? I don't think you would get any Democrats or Republican voters to disagree on this one. We could really bring the country together then, right?

    March 1, 2013 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  14. NIGEL

    In 99.9999% of all companies/business/workplaces, if a manager/supervisor/boss gives an individual or group a project of significant to vital importance with a hard deadline date, finishing said project while covering every vital detail is of the up-most importance. Failure to finish said project by the deadline is usually met with dire consequences, i.e. one or all of the team members most likely losing their job(s), or at the very least placed on thin ice within that organization. It absolutely kills me that our congress, and all national leaders, did NOTHING to solve this problem, for which they were elected to solve. Yet, today there are most likely several of these congress people who are quietly (or not so quietly) celebrating the sequestration due to the forced cuts, event though hundreds of thousands of middle-class workers will be left with at best a 20% reduction in pay, or at worst no job at all. The cuts will then ripple to the private sector whose business serve areas such as San Diego, Norfolk, Northern VA and Southern MD. I wish all of our leaders would be held accountable for their inability to do a job that we the voters placed them in office to specifically complete.

    March 1, 2013 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  15. D.K.

    I'm a federal employee that will be furloughed one day a week until the end of the fiscal year. If a deal is reached after the midnight deadline can the furlough be stopped before it starts in April?

    March 1, 2013 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  16. Mak

    Why doesn't our congress look at the amount of money this country gives to all our friendly countrys around the world and give each of those friends a 25% reduction.... You know that when they explain this to a true friend , that country will be understanding of our situation. And the ones that are not... well thats a good time to cut them loose from our purse strings ! I'm sure we can save ourselves alot of pain here at home .
    Also we should ask congress to take a 50% pay cut from their salaries when their approval rating goes below 50%...

    March 1, 2013 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  17. Peter Carp

    if were trying to cut the budget this pay for life for congress and senate should be cut they should have to rely on Social security just like everybody else they pass a bill to benefit them not America

    March 1, 2013 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  18. DaVida Roberts

    Just like Bush demanded that Congress go back to their "tables" and pass a mortgage bail out, why can't President Obama do the same? (I just don't see why this has to be rocket science...)

    March 1, 2013 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  19. james carbone

    on the budget cuts..so congress cant take a pay cut, why couldn't they give to some of the children's programs in the way of contribution...i refuse to believe that if they really wanted to they could help...all the rhetoric about offering to take a pay cut if they could be turned into action

    March 1, 2013 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  20. Lori W

    Brilliant strategy by Obama. Propose sequester as part of a "balanced" plan with expiring Bush tax cuts (which were for everyone,by the way, not just the "rich") Then, don't negotiate to fix anything. Propose a budget that no one voted for in your own party. Continue to blame the republicans. Continue to distance from any solutions. Keep blaming the Republicans for not fixing anything. Sequester comes due. It is a miniscule CUT IN A RAISE. Oops, keep blaming the Republicans. Have all your agencies scare everyone and tell them to actually cut the real stuff (kids will die, defense will suffer, jobs will be lost) and not the waste in these agencies. Blame the Republicans. From now on, every bad thing will be because the REPUBLICANS would not do anything. Brilliant.

    March 1, 2013 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  21. E.Kannatt

    Does congress get a pay cut? If not why? They should not get any pay until they get this work done.

    March 1, 2013 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  22. Elaine Pierce

    Members of Congress do not get their salaries cut even if they would like to have them cut; HOWEVER, they CAN go on the record as CONTRIBUTING their salaries or a percentage thereof to the enormous fiscal debt that they are so intent on getting the rest of the citizenry to pay off. I'll bet that would get them more votes in the next election than any expensive, boring advertisement. Let's go Mr./Ms. Congressperson, put YOUR money where your mouth is!

    March 1, 2013 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  23. Sophies Hats & More

    My husband is a Federal Employee for the NAVY. He does not work on defense matters, but actually does water desalinization. He has already been put on a salary freeze, travel freeze, hiring freeze, over-time freeze and now the government wants to furlough him. His department is so specialized that they are short staffed, but the contracts and testing need to be completed. How? You don’t want to pay him for his hours he works, and new hires cannot be hired. HOW does our government expect the work to be completed. Meanwhile, we live on 1 income, have a mortgage, 2 children one in college, which we cannot get aid and have living expenses that increase every year. PLEASE Government LEADERS explain to my family how we will be provided for?

    March 1, 2013 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  24. linda

    I work at bluegrass army depot our cut is two days pay ever pay per period doesnt's everyone know what this will do to our familys. If a decision is made will this still happen in april. Does this mean every day they put this off is this a days pay

    March 1, 2013 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  25. rickmickelson

    The ones that would take the pay cut and won't affect them you said because of amendment when they get payed turn around give it back the 20 present so easy so you should do this fore alll who will be affeted

    March 1, 2013 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
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