Thursday, January 31, 2013

In Tampa, activists worry about possible sequestration cuts

Posted By on Thu, Jan 31, 2013 at 7:44 AM

Rick Kriseman speaks against major cuts to social programs
  • Rick Kriseman speaks against major cuts to social programs
Across-the-board cuts to most categories of government spending, called sequestration, will be addressed in Congress on March 1 unless lawmakers do something about it in the next month.

The much-hyped massive cuts were scheduled for the beginning of 2013, but they were delayed until March so Congress could focus on the unsettled fiscal cliff negotiations.

On Sunday's Meet The Press, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) said he thought the sequester would happen.

His attitude alarmed the activist group PICO-United Florida (People Improving Communities through Organizing). As Wednesday evening's sun went down, two dozen citizens gathered in front of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio's Tampa office off Fowler Avenue to call on Rubio and Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson to block any draconian cuts to social programs.

Among those speaking out was Rick Kriseman, former state representative from St. Petersburg. He said big business needs to pay their "fair share" when it comes to Congress and the president uniting on a budget. He also called on Sen. Rubio to stand up for his constituents and "not the corporations."

"The deficit should be reduced," Kriseman insisted. "But in a balanced and fair way."

Kevin King is with PICO-United Florida. He called sequestration "a bloodbath," and said when it comes time to make decisions, there will probably be game playing like there was with the fiscal cliff negotiations.

Dustin Ponder is a part-time employee with UPS. He called on both senators to "stop trying to cut the programs my taxes pay for. Stop raising taxes on working class people, while protecting the interests of millionaires and billionaires."

Complaining about the recent 2 percent payroll tax that hit all working Americans during the fiscal cliff negotiations, Ponder said that Congress was trying again to force tax cuts on the wealthy while cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Although that may be the case when it comes to a budget from the Republican-led House, those programs are not part of the sequester, as reported by Matthew Yglesias in Slate — Social Security, Medicaid, targeted anti-poverty programs, military pay, and the operational cost of ongoing wars are all exempted.

But plenty of other important programs are scheduled to be cut unless Congress acts by March 1. As Ryan indicated, Congress and the president might let those cuts slide through, even though Obama said during one of the debates last fall that it would not happen.

Two USF students, junior Shelby Salesky and sophmore John Quiroz — members of The College Democrats at USF — spoke at the rally, where they said their schooling was being financed in part because of Pell Grants, another government program that was nearly on the chopping block last year. The program is now staring at a nearly $6 billion shortfall by November.

The 20-year-old Quiroz said he was inspired to get into politics by the late Robert F. Kennedy, who he learned about in high school. He said he hopes to become a community organizer back in his hometown of Kissimmee after graduating.

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