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Rep. Harper expects fiscal sequester if Dems don’t drop tax insistence

Get used to the idea of $85 billion in automatic cuts to defense and domestic programs starting next Friday under a sequester deal Congress made with the White House in August 2011.

At least that’s the indication U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper gave during a stop Wednesday at the Mississippi Capitol for the Madison County Business League’s annual League & Legislature luncheon.

President Obama and congressional Democrats have offered a mix of cuts and revenue increases, mainly closing loopholes such as those given on investment income and to the gas and oil industry. Harper, a Brandon Republican in his second term, said he and other GOP lawmakers are OK with any cutting the Democrats want to do. It’s the “revenue enhancements” they want no part of, he said.

“If the solution is to raise taxes, it’s just not going to happen,” Harper said in an interview before the luncheon.

Harper conceded the cuts will be painful but

he does not see much momentum to resolve the standoff over the sequester.

And, by the way, the whole thing “was the president’s idea,” he added.

It’s not clear who actually came up with the sequester idea. What is known is that President Obama and Congress agreed to the painful automatic cuts as a way to force lawmakers from both parties to compromise and come to an agreement on federal spending.

If the automatic cuts actually go into effect in March, budget number crunchers in Washington say the baseline for the federal budget would go from $1.047 trillion to $974 billion, a drop of $73 billion, reports Jamie Dupree in his Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Washington Insider column..

“That is what you call a budget cut, not just a reduction in the rate of increase in the federal budget. The cuts would not be spread out over ten years, they would have to take place by September 30, when the fiscal year ends,” Dupree writes.

Obama Wednesday called the impending cuts “brutal,” and the Pentagon announced it will initiate 800,000 civilian employee furloughs as the sequester kicks in.

Defense cuts and the misery they could bring to a Mississippi jobs picture that has endured prolonged bleakness is a primary concern Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves has about the fiscal sequester.

Mississippi has a huge number of defense personnel working in the state, both active duty and civilians, as well as a large defense-support sector. “The sequester will be very painful for us,” Reeves said in an interview at the Madison Business League luncheon.

Nonetheless, Reeves noted, the pain inflicted may be the only way to lower what he sees as a dangerously high federal deficit.

The automatic cuts will hit Mississippi’s farm economy as well, according to Chip Morgan, executive director of the Delta Council, an economic development agency for the Delta region. He said in an interview earlier this month that Mississippi crop supports could sustain a $10 million to 12 million loss this year alone.

“That’s just on the commodity title,” he said, referring to the impact the automatic cuts will have on the 2013 Farm Bill extension Congress is considering.

Further, each title of the farm bill – research, nutrition, commodities, conservation – will be sliced from 6.5 percent to 8 percent with the sequester’s arrival.

“The cuts are essentially across the board,” Morgan said.




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