Appearing at a news conference Thursday in Pembroke Pines, U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson heaped blame on Republicans for the federal budget cuts — known as the sequester — saying it would cost “millions” of jobs and put the nation on the “brink of a depression.”
But what the Miami Democrat didn’t say is that she had voted for the 2011 legislation that allowed the sequester to take effect as a last-resort measure to deal with the federal budget deficit.
The sequester was part of the Budget Control Act of 2011. It was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama when House Republicans and the president could not agree on a long-term budget deal.
The law included about $1.2 trillion in future cuts and specified that a bipartisan supercommittee would find another $1.2 trillion to help trim the annual deficit and reduce the country’s $16 trillion debt. If cuts could not be agreed on, automatic cuts would kick in, beginning in 2012.
Obama and the Republicans all supported the original law thinking that the sequester would be so draconian that neither would allow it to happen. But the supercommittee failed, and the sequester — $85 billion in mandatory, across-the-board budget cuts in all — went into effect last month.
When asked about her vote in support of the sequester, Wilson’s office responded to the Miami Herald with the following statement:
“In the summer of 2011, Tea Party Republicans first engaged in a hostage-taking tactic with the American economy: They threatened to allow the country to default on its debt payments if they did not get their way in the budget debate. Defaulting on our debt would have devastated our nation’s credit ratings and would have ultimately cost more than a million American jobs. The Budget Control Act was a last-ditch compromise effort to defuse this Tea Party hostage-taking. I disliked the Budget Control Act then, just as I do now. But Democrats were forced to vote for it as a way to avert an even bigger crisis.”
Wilson said she is now a co-sponsor of a bill to cancel the sequester, which she said eliminates funding for air traffic controllers at North Perry Airport in Pembroke Pines.
Against the backdrop of the Broward airport, Wilson, surrounded by local Democratic elected officials, told reporters Thursday that the sequester forced the Federal Aviation Administration to eliminate air traffic controllers at about 150 small airports nationwide, including North Perry. The airport in Opa-locka had also been on the list, but was given a reprieve.
FAA officials said airplanes can land and depart from the airport without air controllers, but that the majority of flights occur when the tower is staffed. The airport is home to a handful of flight schools.
Broward County Commissioner Sue Gunzburger, Pembroke Pines Mayor Frank Ortis and Miramar Mayor Lori Moseley expressed concern for the safety of residents who live in and around the airport.
Broward County commissioners have stepped in to provide about $43,000 a month to keep the tower open 10 hours a day through September, the end of the federal fiscal year. Currently, the tower is open 14 hours a day with about eight air traffic controllers, three of whom will soon lose their jobs.
Wilson said she and U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, and U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Miramar, have also been fighting for an exemption for North Perry Airport. Wasserman Schultz voted in favor of the 2011 sequester bill; Hastings opposed it.
Wilson painted a dire picture of the sequestration nationwide.
“You are going to see so much suffering from the constituents of our districts. I feel that once the Republican constituency base begins to feel these cuts you will see a movement across this nation that will cause the Congress to react and to fight the sequestration.”
Wilson, who represents portions of Miami-Dade and western Broward, used the press conference as a call to rise up against the sequester that she said will hurt residents of all parties.
“This has become the civil rights movement of 2013 ...,” Wilson said. “It’s going to hurt people, people will die, people will suffer, people will lose their homes, people will lose their tax break.”
Broward County Commissioner Chip LaMarca, who didn’t attend the press conference with Wilson, said in an interview that he voted against the county taking over the federal government’s funding responsibility at the North Perry airport.
LaMarca, the lone Republican county commissioner, blamed both parties for the sequester, but he said the cuts are being “done in a manner to try to bring people into hysteria.”
Tony Saavedra, a single father of two teenagers who lives in Pembroke Pines, is among those losing their jobs at the North Perry Airport. He is considering other options, including returning to Afghanistan as a civilian contractor.
"It’s ridiculous it’s getting to this point," he said of the sequester.
Miami Herald staff writers Marc Caputo and Douglas Hanks contributed to this report.