03/26/13 — Butterfield: Sequestration likely to remain done deal

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Butterfield: Sequestration likely to remain done deal

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on March 26, 2013 1:46 PM

U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield

As he spends the first half of his two-week break from Washington, D.C., touring eastern North Carolina, U.S. Congressman G.K. Butterfield, D-District 1, says the one thing he keeps hearing over and over is a desire for certainty.

"People want certainty. People need to plan for the future, both for the families and businesses," he said Monday after a visit to AAR Corp. in Goldsboro. "They need for us to end the gridlock and have a bipartisan solution to these problems."

And among the biggest of those right now is sequestration, which, despite voting against it, even Butterfield didn't think would go into effect.

"None of us did. We thought it would be a suitable incentive for each side to compromise and reach an agreement. But partisanship is so high that it didn't happen. The problem is Republicans are unwilling to agree to a comprehensive approach to deficit reduction.

"We are never going to be able to cut spending enough -- only when we agree to a comprehensive approach that combines responsible cuts with additional revenue."

Now, however, he said, he does not believe there is any way to stop sequestration from going fully into effect -- even those consequences that have yet to occur such as the civilian furloughs expected to begin in April on Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

"I don't see it. I want to roll back sequestration. Most Democrats and Republicans want to make changes to sequestration," he said. "It's not wise when you have across-the-board cuts with no discretion. We just hope the agencies will use furloughs and layoffs as a last resort."

Still, Butterfield said, a large part of the challenge in finding a better and more permanent solution to the deficit problem is the high level of partisanship that exists in Congress and between Congress and President Barack Obama -- especially when it comes to fixing entitlement spending such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

"We all agree that entitlement spending needs to be revised. We want to do it, it's just that neither side has come up with any specifics on how it can be done," he said. "There is no question that Medicare is driving the deficit. We've got to find an effective and efficient way of managing that."

But, he said, that's hard to do when neither party will take a real step forward for fear of giving the other an opening to criticize -- something he said both Democrats and Republicans are guilty of doing.

The ideas are out there, he said -- raising the eligibility age, means testing, increasing the Medicare tax on employers and more -- it's just a matter of making the tough decisions.

"There are ways it can be done, but they are controversial," he said.

Fortunately, Butterfield continued, he believes there may be some reason to hope things are slowly improving.

"Now that the election is behind us and sequester is a household word and everybody is sharing in the deficit reduction pain, I believe now we have the opportunity to start over and get something done on deficit reduction," he said. "I believe the president can lead the way, if the Republicans are open to increasing revenues."

And with the House and Senate both having passed its own budget proposals for the first time in four years, he thinks that dialogue will soon begin in earnest.

"Now they will move to conference and the president needs to have an active role in those budget negotiations," he said, adding that the Obama and the leaders of both parties in the House and Senate "need to go to Camp David for a week or two and reconcile their differences."

But even as those discussions take place, Butterfield said, they cannot be all the federal government is focused on. Other issues such as gun control -- he expects a vote soon on background checks, not on an assault weapons ban -- climate change, and international concerns such as what to do about Syria and Iran also need attention.

"There is more to governing than just the gridlock of deficit reduction," he said, adding that the next big discussion is likely to be about immigration reform, which he expects will come up and likely approved before the end of August.

"I think we'll make some good progress on the immigration front. Even people who, four years ago, believed in deportation have come around and realize you can't just deport 11 million people," he said.