ROGERSVILLE — Federal discretionary spending cuts “are going to happen” March 1, U.S. Rep. Phil Roe told about 130 business and local government leaders at a Rogersville/Hawkins County Chamber of Commerce legislative breakfast Saturday.
The scheduled cuts on that date are part of a so-called “sequestration” process enacted in 2011 during an impasse between President Barack Obama and Congressional Republicans over raising the nation’s debt limit.
Defense will take the biggest hit, Roe warned.
“This will leave us with the smallest Navy since 1917, the smallest Army since 1940, and the smallest tactical Air Force ever in the history of this country,” Roe said of the defense cuts’ impact at the Hawkins County Education Training Center event.
But even with across-the-board spending cuts, Roe said the federal government would still have a budget deficit.
“That’s how big a hole we’re in,” Roe noted. “The deficit is at $16.5 trillion now, and we will add another trillion to it this year. ... There is a pending disaster — not immediate — but pending.”
March 27 is when Congress’ last continuing budget resolution runs out, but Roe said lawmakers could move the resolution’s deadline to Oct. 1 — the start of the federal budget year.
Roe predicted the GOP-controlled House will pass legislation to balance the federal budget within 10 years.
“That’s going to require cuts in mandatory spending,” Roe pointed out. “That’s when you’re going to hear these awful things about how I want to starve children and on and on. Somebody has to have the spine and backbone to help save this country.”
The U.S. Senate, Roe stressed, has not passed a federal budget since his first year in Congress in 2009.
“The iPad didn’t exist when the Senate passed its last budget. That’s a shame when you think about it,” Roe said.
Aside from federal spending battles, Roe reiterated Congress probably won’t make dramatic changes to gun laws amid the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting massacre.
Immigration reform will be debated, Roe added.
“If we do not control the (U.S.-Mexico) border, the rest of (the immigration reform debate) doesn’t mean a hill of beans,” Roe insisted.
While Roe framed challenges at the federal government level, two state lawmakers at the breakfast talked about their individual legislative agendas.
State Rep. Mike Harrison, R-Rogersville, said he again is sponsoring legislation to impose a 4.5 percent assessment fee on hospitals in the state.
The fee, supported by the Tennessee Hospital Association, allows the state to draw down more than $1 billion from the federal government for its Medicaid program known as TennCare.
Harrison said he’s also sponsoring “nursing home bed tax” legislation allowing the state to match federal funds used by TennCare to pay nursing homes.
“If someone runs (for state representative) against me, I am opening myself up for a (direct) mail piece being a tax hiker, but these bills are critical to health care in this state,” Harrison explained.
Freshman state Sen. Frank Niceley, a former House member, spoke about his bill to put school resource officers (SROs) in every Tennessee school.
The bill’s cost hasn’t yet been calculated, but Niceley said he’s gotten endorsements for it from the Tennessee Education Association and National Rifle Association.
“(The bill) requires every school to have some kind of security and sets the level of training for the guards,” Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, said of his SRO bill.
“When everybody read the bill, they pretty much got on board and agreed with it.”
Both Harrison and Niceley also touted Gov. Bill Haslam’s $32 billion budget proposal, which again calls for tax cuts on food and investment income.
“We look at every dime that is spent in this state and go over it with a fine-tooth comb,” Harrison, who chairs the House Finance Subcommittee, said. “There’s all kinds of things that get left out every year that all of us would like to fund.”