By Jonathan Ellis
Congress in the next few months will vote on some of the most consequential issues that the nation has seen in a decade, including immigration reform, Rep. Kristi Noem said Tuesday.
Meanwhile, as the nation gets close to automatic cuts on March 1 known as sequestration, Noem said it’s up to the Senate and President Obama to come up with a plan. Sequestration would trim $85 billion in spending this year and $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years, with much of that coming from the military.
“We’re running out of time, obviously,” Noem said during a speech to the Great Plains chapter of the Military Officers Association of America.
As the deadline nears, the blame game is in full swing. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee issued a release Tuesday that blamed House Republicans for leaving Washington without having negotiated a deal. The House and Senate are on a Presidents’ Day break.
The DCCC estimates that sequestration would cost South Dakota 4,700 jobs and $241 million in lost income.
But Noem said House Republicans have sent two plans to avoid the cuts to the Senate. The Senate has not taken up those bills or introduced a plan of its own. Nor has the president, whose administration came up with the concept of sequestration during negotiations to raise the debt limit in the summer of 2011, she said.
“He doesn’t tell you that on the news,” Noem said.
President Obama, back from a Florida golfing weekend, warned Tuesday that “people will lose their jobs” if Congress doesn’t act. But lawmakers weren’t in session to hear his appeal, and they aren’t coming back to work until next week.
Still dividing the two sides are sharp differences over whether tax increases, which Obama wants and Republicans oppose, should be part of a budget deal.
Obama cautioned that if the immediate spending cuts occur, the full range of government will feel the effects. Among those he listed: furloughed FBI agents, reductions in spending for communities to pay police, firefighters and teachers, and decreased ability to respond to threats around the world.
“So far at least, the ideas that the Republicans have proposed ask nothing of the wealthiest Americans or the biggest corporations,” Obama said at a White House event against a backdrop of firefighters and other emergency personnel. “So the burden is all on the first responders, or seniors or middle class families.”
Aides say Obama is ready to take his case more directly to the public in an effort to pressure Republicans, either by traveling to vulnerable states or, as the White House often does, through local media interviews. They say neither Obama nor White House officials are now engaged in direct negotiations with Republican leaders.
Rick Tupper, a retired Navy veteran at the Noem event, called the cuts to defense forces “extreme.” Tupper, who is on the executive board of the Sioux Falls Airshow, said the Navy sent out a notice that sequestration would ground the Blue Angels flight team, which performed here last summer.
Luckily, he noted, Sioux Falls isn’t scheduled to have another show until 2015.
“I’m glad we’re not having an airshow this year. Please fix that by 2015,” he told Noem.
Scott Redd, a small business owner, asked Noem about the prospects of the minimum wage going up, which the president proposed in his State of the Union address. He said he wanted to give his employees raises based on their performance and the profits his company makes, not by government dictates.
The minimum wage issue is just one that Congress will deal with in the coming months. Noem predicted Congress would also address immigration reform. Immigrant workers are important to South Dakota, in both agriculture and manufacturing, she said. And she added that many of the constituent issues that her offices deal with involve legal immigrants and the problems they have with federal immigration policy.
While Noem supports a “path to citizenship,” she does not think the government should grant amnesty to an estimated 11 million people in the country illegally. But the immigrant workforce is important to the country, and Noem said the country needs to make it easier for legal immigration.
“I think more people would come here legally if they could actually come here,” she said.