It's All Politics
12:50 pm
Fri February 22, 2013

Sequester In South Carolina: A Tale Of Fighter Jets And Preschools

Originally published on Fri February 22, 2013 1:47 pm

In Sumter, S.C., home of Shaw Air Force Base and the 20th Fighter Wing, cars sport bumper stickers that say, "Jet noise is the sound of freedom."

Throughout the day, F-16s on training runs blast from a runway on base, disappearing into the foggy sky. But if automatic, across-the-board federal spending cuts slated for March 1 go into effect, there will be a lot less of that sound.

"To cut to that level, we just could not pay for the amount of flying hours that we currently have," says Capt. Ann Blodzinski, the base's chief of public affairs.

Air Force officials say 200,000 flying hours would have to be slashed between now and the end of September. Blodzinski says that would have all kinds of consequences.

"When jets sit, they break, so the longer they sit, you can't just bring everything back up," she says. "You can't just bring the pilots right back up to being ready to fly."

Scheduled maintenance wouldn't happen on schedule; runway repairs would be delayed. And while uniformed personnel would continue to get paid, hundreds of thousands of civilians would face 22 days of unpaid furlough.

Rob Sexton, who works with Blodzinski, is one of them.

"For most of us, in dollars and cents, that means about a 20 percent pay cut," he says.

Sexton says everyone he runs into is talking about it, scraping for every bit of news they can find about what might come out of Washington.

"In a sense, it's like sitting in New Jersey waiting for Hurricane Sandy to hit," he says, "because you know there's a storm coming, but you don't know how big it's going to be, how bad it's going to be, how long it's going to be."

Whom To Cut?

Just up Broad Street from the base, things are pretty quiet at the Goodwin Auto Mall. Owner Cliff Goodwin says people affiliated with the base account for about a third of his business.

"I wonder if it'll be similar to the fiscal cliff that we all worried about so much — just a lot of hype, and then it'll ultimately be resolved in a good, common-sense manner," Goodwin says.

Waiting, watching and hoping is what Linnie Miller is doing, too. She's the Head Start director with Carolina Community Actions Inc., which serves about 850 children — 3- and 4-year-olds — including two classrooms of kids at the Avery Lake affordable housing complex.

"The problem that we have is deciding which children," Miller says. Which children to kick out of the program, she means.

She's looking at a classroom full of children: a group drawing cars; a couple on the computer working on letters; others playing with blocks and trains. If the sequester goes through, Miller says, the only way to cut enough costs would be to lay off instructors. They would have to eliminate three classes — 51 children.

"Which children do you choose? Which families do you think could go without the service and they'll be OK?" she says. "And I don't think there's any family that we serve that would not be affected in a negative way."

'What's The Big Deal?'

And so, with all this worry about the spending cuts, you would expect the sequester to be a major topic of discussion at Republican Rep. Mick Mulvaney's recent town hall meeting in nearby Rock Hill, S.C.

As he does at every town hall, Mulvaney opens the meeting with a PowerPoint presentation about "hot topics." He is plain-spoken and breaks down the big numbers of the federal budget so they are easily understood. Every seat is taken in the auditorium, with some people standing in the back.

"The sequester cuts are real cuts," he says. "They're cuts in the way that you and I would understand them as normal human beings. They're not Washington cuts."

He says the across-the-board nature of the cuts to military spending are not the best way to do this, and then moves on to other topics. In a full two hours of questions from the audience, not a single person asks about the sequester.

"Does that surprise you — that Washington cares about something that people back home don't?" he says later in an interview.

Mulvaney describes himself as one of the most conservative members of Congress, and judging from the questions, the audience at the meeting was largely conservative as well.

"To the extent that it would come up," Mulvaney says, "I think people would here say, 'What's the big deal?' "

He would like to see the sequester cuts replaced with other, more strategic cuts. But while Mulvaney has no idea how this will ultimately pan out, he is certain it won't live up to the hype.

"I'm comfortable that the federal government will continue to exist after the sequester. I don't think people are going to, you know, go to the streets and revolt when the U.S. Department of Commerce has to go back a couple of years in their budgets," he says.

A poll out this week from Pew and USA Today finds 4 in 10 people believe that if Congress and the president can't reach a deal, the cuts should be allowed to go into effect.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And now, to how the threat of the sequester is viewed outside of Washington, NPR's Tamara Keith visited South Carolina and found mixed reactions.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: In Sumter, South Carolina, home of Shaw Air Force Base and the 20th Fighter Wing, cars sport bumper stickers that say jet noise is the sound of freedom. Throughout the day, F-16s on training runs blast from a runway on base, disappearing into the foggy sky. If the automatic spending cuts go ahead, there will be a lot of less of that sound.

CAPTAIN ANN BLODZINSKI: What would have to happen to cut to that level, we just could not pay for the amount of flying hours that we currently have.

KEITH: Captain Ann Blodzinski is the chief of public affairs at Shaw Air Force Base. Air Force officials say 200,000 flying hours would have to be slashed between now and the end of September. And Blodzinski says that would have all kinds of consequences.

BLODZINSKI: When jets sit, they break. So the longer they sit, you can't just bring everything back up. You can't just bring the pilots right back up to being ready to fly.

KEITH: Scheduled maintenance wouldn't happen on schedule. Runway repairs would be delayed. And while uniformed personnel will continue to get paid, hundreds of thousands of civilians will face 22 days of unpaid furlough. Rob Sexton is one of them. He works with Blodzinski.

ROB SEXTON: For most of us, in dollars and cents, that means about a 20 percent pay cut.

KEITH: Sexton says everyone he runs into is talking about it, scraping for every bit of news they can find about what might come out of Washington.

SEXTON: In a sense, it's like sitting in New Jersey waiting for Hurricane Sandy to hit because you know there's a storm coming, but you don't know how big it's going to be, how bad it's going to be, how long it's going to be.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Mick Webber(ph) to cashier's office, please. Mick Webber?

KEITH: Just up Broad Street from the base, things are pretty quiet at the Goodwin Auto Mall. Owner Cliff Goodwin says people affiliated with the base account for about a third of his business.

CLIFF GOODWIN: I wonder if it'll be similar to the fiscal cliff that we all worried about so much, just a lot of hype, and then it'll ultimately be resolved in a good, common sense manner.

KEITH: Waiting, watching and hoping is what Linnie Miller is doing too. She's the Head Start director with Carolina Community Actions Incorporated. They serve about 850 3- and 4-year olds, including two classrooms of kids at the Avery Lake affordable housing complex.

LINNIE MILLER: The problem that we have is deciding which children.

KEITH: Which children to kick out of the program. She's looking at a classroom full of kids: a group drawing cars; a couple on the computer working on letters; others playing with blocks and trains. If the sequester goes through, Miller says the only way to cut enough costs would be to lay off instructors. They'd have to eliminate three classes, 51 children.

MILLER: Which children do you choose? Which families do you think could go without this service and they'll be OK? And I don't think there's any family that we serve that would not be affected in a negative way.

KEITH: And so, with all this worry about the spending cuts, you'd expect the sequester to be a major topic of discussion at South Carolina Republican Mick Mulvaney's recent town hall meeting in nearby Rock Hill...

REPRESENTATIVE MICK MULVANEY: Sequester, you'll hear a lot about this in the next couple of days...

KEITH: As he does at every town hall, the congressman opens the meeting with a PowerPoint presentation about hot topics. He's plain-spoken and breaks down the big numbers of the federal budget so they're easily understood. Every seat is taken in the auditorium, with some people standing in the back.

MULVANEY: The sequester cuts are real cuts. They're cuts in the way that you and I would understand them as normal human beings. They're not Washington cuts, which...

KEITH: He says the across-the-board nature of the cuts to military spending are not the best way to do this, and then moves on to other topics. A full two hours of questions from the audience and not a single person asks about the sequester.

MULVANEY: Does that surprise you, that Washington cares about something that people back home don't?

KEITH: Mulvaney describes himself as one of the most conservative members of Congress. And judging from the questions, the audience at the meeting was largely conservative as well.

MULVANEY: To the extent that it would come up, I think people would, here, say what's the big deal?

KEITH: He'd like to see the sequester cuts replaced with other more strategic cuts. Mulvaney has no idea how this will ultimately pan out, but he is certain it won't live up to the hype.

MULVANEY: I'm comfortable that the federal government will continue to exist after the sequester. I don't think people are going to, you know, go to the streets and revolt when the U.S. Department of Commerce has to go back a couple of years in their budget.

KEITH: A poll out this week from Pew and USA Today finds four in 10 people believe that if Congress and the president can't reach a deal, the cuts should be allowed to go into effect. Tamara Keith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.