Patty in the News

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray wants to put a face on the sequester.

In Congress and around the country, the Washington Democrat said, skeptics wonder whether the billions of dollars in cuts the federal government put in place in March, following debt-ceiling negotiations last year, are having a noticeable effect on the nation.

“I’m hearing people say it isn’t real, that it hasn’t had an impact,” she said.

In an effort to prove them wrong, Murray introduced Sara Simrell and Jennifer Green at a news conference Friday morning at Kvichak Marine Industries in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood.

Green, 26, works for Madigan Army Medical Center on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, where a furlough is cutting her $35,000 annual salary by 32 percent. She is one of 6,700 civilian defense workers at the base and thousands more across the state who have faced furloughs.

Simrell, 36, was laid off from her $75,000-a-year job at Paladin Data, a software firm in Poulsbo, because of reduced and postponed government contracts.

Green was “really upset and frustrated” after hearing she’d be facing the furlough. She and her co-workers were given 30 days’ notice, she said, which meant she had three paychecks’ time to figure out a plan moving forward.

“They kept telling us, ‘Don’t worry about it,’ ” she said. “But 30 days is not a lot of notice.”

Simrell had been with Paladin for nine years, but lost her job during layoffs that cut more than half of the company’s staff throughout the past two years. She and her husband, who works part time with foster children and takes care of their toddler, had just bought a house in January.

They’d planned to start saving for the future. Without her Paladin salary, Simrell will have to dip into her savings instead. She filed for unemployment benefits last week.

Cameron Ames, an Air Reserve technician at Lewis-McChord, has gone on 10 deployments to Afghanistan and Africa in the past decade, resupplying Air Force missions. He also trains other Air Reserve members, who, like him, serve as backup when the war effort requires. In these roles, he makes $60,000 a year.

But Ames and his colleagues are facing reduced income because of the sequester, which, he said, has led many to ask themselves, “Do we make the house payment or the car payment?”

“There are thousands of people who are having to make that decision,” he said after the news conference. “We’re putting people who support the core mission of the U.S. military in that position.”

“People are fed up,” Ames says, watching the U.S. government put billions of dollars into other countries, yet having their bottom line cut at home. He quoted President Abraham Lincoln, saying “a house divided against itself cannot stand,” and Ames said the divided Congress needs to come together and find a solution to the issue.

Brian Thomas, one of the owners of Kvichak Marine, a government- and commercial-workboat builder, said several of his company’s federal orders have been cut. While Kvichak Marine hasn’t had to lay off any workers yet, it’s likely to happen next year if the cuts continue.

“It’s the beginning of the storm,” Thomas said. He said the uncertainty created by the sequester makes it “impossible to plan.” It’s especially concerning to him because half of Kvichak’s business comes from military contracts.

Thomas called the news conference “confidence building.”

“It feels better to know somebody cares, that she (Murray) would attend and host an event like this to get the word out, to say, ‘What is the pain? How are you doing?’ ” he said.

Thomas “can’t imagine” people believe the budget cuts aren’t having an impact.

Murray, the chair of the Senate Budget Committee, has written a new budget to replace sequestration with a “balanced mix of revenue and spending cuts.” She addressed the issue in a speech on the Senate Floor on the eve of the Lewis McChord furloughs last month. By invoking the stories of everyday people like Green, Simrell, Ames, Thomas and others affected, she hopes to make the struggle more real to her colleagues.

The U.S. needs to manage its budget, Murray said after the conference, but across-the-board cuts are not the way to do it.

“It’s impacting businesses and community people who know what it means to be furloughed,” she said.

- Seattle Times