ALPENA - As Congress and President Barack Obama continue to play a game of cat and mouse over how best to reduce the country's deficit and avoid the sequestration cuts before the March 1 deadline, many hold their breath preparing for severe cuts that many experts believe will throw the country back into a recession.
On Thursday Rep. Dan Benishek visited Alpena and provided an update on where talks stand on a sequestration deal, as well as other issues such as gun control, the Benghazi attack and the local unmanned aircraft project.
The sequestered cuts, which would be over 10 years and total $1.2 trillion and will be enacted if the president and Congress don't act before the deadline. Few will be spared from the impact. Major across the board cuts will affect the military, those receiving unemployment benefits, the FBI, schools and most other things the federal government helps fund.
Benishek said the House has approved several plans to for debt reduction and negating such steep cuts, but the Senate hasn't acted or voted on them. He said it is frustrating because important decisions are always being pushed back or until the deadline is hours away.
"I'm not sure what is going to happen. It is pretty frustrating the way this government is working from crisis to crisis. It seems like a lot of people in Washington just don't want to do their work," Benishek said. "What I think will happen is we'll put together a continuing resolution to fund the government for the rest of the year that will incorporate the cuts as designated by the sequestration, but allow the different departments to pick where they want to cut from. Right now the cuts are designated will give the departments the flexibility to cut where it will do the least amount of harm."
Benishek said he has had to make some tough decisions in votes related to budgets and deficit reduction and has taken heat for it. He said a new law passed will require members of the Senate to pass a budget before April 15, or they will not be paid. According to Benishek the Senate has not voted on a budget for four years or even proposed one for the House to consider.
"I have taken my beating, but at least I have voted," Benishek said. "Meanwhile they don't vote or even take a position on things. The new law will make them or they won't get paid. Then they can show everyone where they will make the cuts. They can tell us what they think the taxes should be. They can tell us if they want spending cuts where they are going to make them. They're not doing any of that. It's frustrating. These are things that need to be worked on."
After the shootings in Aurora, Colo., and at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Obama has put strengthening gun laws at the top of his to-do list. Benishek said he is against drastic changes to the current gun regulations, but instead focuses on those who are committing the grievous acts, the mentally ill and violent criminals.
"I don't think we should abridge the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens," Benishek said. "If we don't allow law-abiding citizens to defend themselves, then who is going to do it for them? Nobody. I grew up in northern Michigan and have been a gun owner most of my life. Most people around here are responsible with their weapons.
"What people need to recognize is, a gun is a tool, and more people are killed by hammers each year than with bullets. Nine-eleven occurred because of box-cutters. There are bad people out there or have mental illness. What we need to do is direct our attention on getting them help and keeping the guns out of their hands. I don't know what the solution is, but we need to have a discussion about what we can do to control their access to a weapon."
Steve Schulwitz can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5689.