EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 27, 2013

Sequester fears affect businesses, agencies

By John Toole
jtoole@eagletribune.com

---- — SALEM — Micro-Precision Technologies put off filling two jobs as its customers delayed orders amid concerns about pending automatic, across-the-board federal spending cuts.

“It has affected our flow of business,” general manager J. Michael Sapienti said yesterday from his office at the company that benefits from defense-related contracts.

Customers are nervous, Sapienti said.

“It’s the ‘FUD factor’ — fear, uncertainty and doubt,” he said.

New Hampshire’s congressional delegation agrees the so-called sequester is the wrong way to cut spending.

But it’s unclear whether the delegation — or anyone else in Washington — can stop the cuts before they move forward Friday.

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., toured the Salem company last week to highlight her concerns.

“Domestic manufacturing companies like Micro-Precision Technologies are critical to our long-term economic growth and the United States’ competitive edge,” she said, “but they’re also the type of business that will bear the harsh brunt of Congress’ inaction and inability to compromise.”

Failure by Congress to act will put the country on a path to $1.2 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years and the cost cutting would hit New Hampshire right away.

The White House said New Hampshire this year would lose $3.2 million in education aid, $1.5 million for environmental protection, about $500,000 for public health, $138,000 for job training and $225,000 for meals for seniors, among other cuts.

An official at the Rockingham Nutrition and Meals on Wheels Program said the sequester cuts would come on top of state aid cuts.

“It’s like everybody is jumping on the same pile,” Executive Director Debra Perou said yesterday. “This is not good.”

The program, which gets about 60 percent of its funding from state and federal aid, served 328,000 meals three years ago. It now serves about 288,000 meals, Perou said, and would see the number fall with pending aid cuts.

The program helps keep older residents in their homes, she said, and out of nursing homes, saving society money on health care. But sometimes, agency staff members feel like they’re hanging on a cliff and someone is stomping on their hands, she said.

“We’re feeding people, for heaven’s sake,” Perou said. “It’s time to make the right decisions.”

President Obama and his Democratic allies in Congress have thus far failed to reach a deal with Republicans over a compromise to avoid sequester.

Republicans want serious cost cutting while avoiding tax increases. Democrats at least want to close tax breaks while trimming federal spending.

But that’s just the number side of the equation. The parties also are at odds over what to cut.

People will pass around the blame if Congress doesn’t get the job done.

A Pew Center survey showed 45 percent of respondents would blame Republicans, 32 percent would blame the president and 13 percent blame both.

U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., appearing on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday, said she was working on a plan to avoid sequester.

“I’ll come up with an alternative spending cut proposal with other colleagues in the Senate,” Ayotte said.

Ayotte opposes letting the president make alternative cuts.

“I think that’s a cop-out, so I will be urging my colleagues to have an alternative and for us to present one,” she said.

Obama needs to lead, though, she said.

“He’s been out trying to blame Republicans,” Ayotte said. “I think the American people are tired of the blame game.”

Over the past 14 months, dating back at least to a Town Hall-style meeting in Derry in the fall of 2011, Ayotte has expressed frustration with Congress over a growing deficit and budgeting practices.

“We wouldn’t be in this situation if Congress did its job and passed a fiscally responsible budget on time,” Ayotte said Monday.

Congresswoman Ann McLane Kuster, D-N.H., appealed to colleagues on the House floor Monday night to find a bipartisan plan to avoid the cuts.

“If Congress fails to act, the sequester is going to trigger mindless, across-the-board cuts that will hurt middle class New Hampshire families and undermine our economy,” Kuster said.

Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter, D-N.H., this month wrote to Speaker John Boehner, pressing for an alternative.

“We must take immediate action to protect critical domestic programs, prevent these draconian cuts, protect our national security infrastructure, and avoid further damage to our economy,” Shea-Porter said.