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Utah reps. frustrated at potential $85B federal budget cuts

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's congressional delegation reacted strongly Wednesday to the looming sequester deadline that would trigger $85 billion in automatic cuts to the federal budget.

The across-the-board cuts were mandated by a 2011 deficit reduction law and apply equally to defense and non-defense spending. The cuts do not apply to about 70 percent of the money spent by the U.S. government, including that spent on things like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

In Utah, the cuts could force job furloughs among civilians at Hill Air Force Base. Jobs could be affected at the Salt Lake International Airport in the control tower and among the TSA, and in schools among teachers, food inspectors and others. With that in mind, Utah's congressional leaders have expressed their frustration at the standstill in Washington, with Rep. Chris Stewart calling the situation "an example of bad government."

Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, said both parties are guilty of playing the "blame game" and are not trying to solve the problem the nation faces. And former Sen. Robert Bennett said the long-term impact is on the economy: Uncertainty stunts growth, and could cost more than anticipated.

How big are the cuts?
Over a decade, the cuts total about $1 trillion, half from defense and half from domestic programs.

There's an additional $200 billion or so in lower government interest payments. For this budget year, the Congressional Budget Office estimates the cuts are $42.7 billion from defense (8 percent) and $42.7 billion from domestic programs (5 percent).

"In the meantime, it's created such uncertainty among the federal managers that it's adding costs to the federal government," Bennett said. "And the irony is that it may end up costing more than the $85 billion it's supposed to save."

Republican Senators Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee have proposed alternatives to sequester, but the ideas haven't gotten any traction.

"This is frustrating. This is disappointing," Lee said. "It still remains some possibility that we could replace it with something else. But the clock is ticking and we haven't done it yet."

It's also disappointing to newcomer Congressman Chris Stewart, who now has a front-row seat to observe what is not working.

"I'm really interested in cutting our debt and spending, but we want to do it the right way," he said. "And quite frankly, sequestration is a poor tool for that."