- Special Projects
For the last couple of weeks, Rep. Colleen Hanabusa has been railing against sequestration in campaign emails. But they haven’t told the whole story about her history with the automatic budget cuts.
The most recent email came last week. Under the subject line, “Sequestration is Hurting Families,” Hanabusa wrote, “These furloughs are devastating for Hawaii’s families.”
The week before in an email titled, “Stop Sequestration Now,” she said, “I voted against the sequester precisely because of the disproportionate impact the mandatory cuts have on Hawaii’s families.”
But did she oppose the sequester?
It’s true that she did vote against a continuing budget resolution on March 6 that provided funding to prevent a government shutdown but left the budget cuts in place. She explained in a press release then: “it does nothing to remove sequestration.”
What Hanabusa didn’t mention in the campaign emails, though, is that two years ago, she voted for the bill that led to sequestration.
Rewind to Aug. 1, 2011. Congress was locked in the debt-ceiling crisis. Republicans were refusing to raise the amount of money the federal government could borrow, unless there was a deal on reducing the national debt. The nation was in danger of defaulting on its debt. Experts were predicting all sorts of doom to the economy.
At the brink, Congress came up with an imperfect compromise. Called the Budget Control Act, it made $1 trillion in cuts by 2021. More relevant to Hanabusa’s emails, it also created a budget “super committee” to come up with a plan to cut another $1.2 trillion.
If there was no deal, automatic across-the-board budget cuts — sequestration — would go into effect.
Hanabusa, as well as Hawaii’s entire Congressional delegation, voted for it. House Democrats nationally were split on the issue, with 95 voting for it and 95 voting against.
No one in the delegation liked the measure at the time. Not Sen. Daniel Inouye, who released a statement saying it was not a deal that he took “any great pride in.”
And not Hanabusa, who told Civil Beat she was voting for the bill begrudgingly.
But vote for the bill, she did. The alternative was the nation defaulting. And sequestration wasn’t supposed to actually happen. The automatic budget cuts were so unthinkable, the reasoning in Congress went, it would force the super committee to act.
But the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, of which Hanabusa was not a member, couldn’t reach a deal.
As a result, in March, the automatic budget cuts went into effect. Furloughs have begun for civilians in the military. Other budget shortfalls are starting to play out.
Hanabusa spokesman Richard Rapoza, in an email on Thursday, pointed to the ramifications had the Budget Control Act not passed.
“Hanabusa voted for the (bill) because the nation was facing the unprecedented threat of the U.S. not meeting its financial obligations both at home and around the world,” he said. “Remember that the Budget Control Act was a response to Congressional Republicans holding the full faith and credit of the Unites States hostage by refusing to raise the debt ceiling, which would allow the U.S. to meet its existing obligations.”
“The effects of failing to raise the debt ceiling could have been catastrophic,” Rapoza said.
He cited a letter from U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geitner to House Speaker John Boehner at the time, in which he said a variety of payments from Social Security to military pay, “would be at risk.”
“This would impose severe economic hardship on millions of individuals and businesses across the country,” Geitner said in the letter.
Rapoza also objected to the characterization that Hanabusa had voted for sequestration, noting it was only a threat that actually wasn’t supposed to happen. “Rep. Hanabusa voted to protect the full faith and credit of the United States, create a committee that would present a plan for long-term deficit reduction, and provide an incentive for the committee to complete its assigned task,” he said.
However, another way of looking at it is that in the midst of a tough campaign, she’s trying to distance herself from that vote two years ago. Through comments like, “I voted against the sequester,” she’s trying to make people forget she actually helped create it.
BOTTOM LINE: Hanabusa’s campaign email statement that she voted against sequestration is true — as far as it goes. In March, she did vote against the continuing resolution citing the continuation of sequestration. But earlier she voted for the bill that she knew could put sequestration in place. Her campaign emails give an incomplete picture by neglecting to mention her vote for the measure that — intended or not — led to sequestration. The super committee may not have done its job, but sequestration would not have happened had the Budget Control Act not passed. She played a role in that. In this context, we find the statement — “I voted against the sequester” — HALF TRUE.