In an attempt to strike a chord with taxpayers last week, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., instead hit a sour note with a dog-and-pony show.
Murray, the chair of the Senate Budget Committee, held a press conference Friday in Seattle, attempting to drive home the impact of across-the-board federal government budget reductions that went into effect in March. Automatic spending reductions of $85 billion were enacted, or at least authorized for gradual implementation.
The spending reduction, dictated by the Budget Control Act of 2011 and forced into effect when Congress could not strike a budget deal, is often mislabeled as a budget cut. Rather, the sequester simply reduced the rate of growth in the federal budget.
"I'm hearing people say it isn't real, that it hasn't had an impact," Murray said Friday. Two weeks ago, on the floor of the Senate, she said: "We've been forced to take a hard look at the numbers — and exactly what so many important programs and services will look like next year under cuts forced by sequestration, and it isn't pretty."
To drive home her point, Murray presented several people at Friday's press conference who have been directly impacted by sequestration. And that is where her assertions demonstrated that she is out of touch with the mood of the general public.
First, according to The Seattle Times, there was Sara Simrell, a 36-year-old who was laid off from her $75,000-a-year job at Paladin Data, a software firm in Poulsbo, because of reduced and postponed government contracts. Then there was Jennifer Green, a 26-year-old who works for Madigan Army Medical Center on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, where a furlough is cutting her $35,000 annual salary by 32 percent.
There's no doubt that sequestration has adversely impacted Simrell and Green — as well as thousands of other employees across the nation. But the overriding tenor of Murray's presentation is that once you have a federal job — or a job supported by federal contracts — you should be safe from harsh economic realities.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Sequestration was allowed to go into effect because the public is fed up with the federal government spending money that it doesn't have, spending beyond its budget, and frequently coming to taxpayers insisting that average people sacrifice more and more.
Throughout the Great Recession of the past several years, private-sector workers have consistently been faced with the insecurity caused by teetering industries and the specter of staff reductions. To attempt to engender sympathy for federally supported employees facing the same insecurity is an embarrassing misfire on the part of Sen. Murray.
Certainly, the sequester has had some impact. Many people are losing jobs or have seen salaries reduced. But if Murray had hoped to make that resonate with the public, she would have been wise to bring out people who have had services cut by the sequester. Hearing testimonials from the homeless or the mentally ill or the infirm — people whose basic needs are impacted by federal cuts — would be a more effective manner for describing the impact of the sequester.
At the press conference, Brian Thomas, a business owner affected by the budget reduction, praised Murray. "It feels better to know somebody cares," he said, "that she would attend and host an event like this to get the word out, to say, 'What is the pain? How are you doing?'"
We'll be more impressed when Murray talks about the pain of people truly in need — or those who are not reliant upon the federal government for their salaries.