By Kristen A. Lee New York Daily News
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano warned Monday that scheduled sweeping budget cuts will undermine national security as the Obama administration continued to ramp up pressure on Congress to reach a deal to avoid the so-called sequester.
If Congress fails to reach a deal this week, $85 billion will be stripped from the federal budget as of Friday. The cuts will impact military, domestic and certain health care programs.
“Put simply, the automatic budget reduction mandated by sequestration would be disruptive and destructive to our nation’s security and economy,” Napolitano told reporters during the Monday press briefing. “It would negatively affect the mission readiness and capabilities of the men and women on our frontlines. It would undermine the significant progress we’ve made over the past 10 years to build the nation’s preparedness and resiliency.”
She said the agency will be forced to furlough Customs and Border Protection officers and that wait times to clear customs will jump by as much as 50 percent – to four hours or more at some airports.
When it’s combined with cuts to the FAA, Napolitano calls it a “perfect storm in terms of the ability to move around the country.”
Wait times at land ports could rise to as long as five hours, while delays to examine containers at seaports could increase up to five days.
The cuts will also interfere with enforcing the nation’s immigration laws, Napolitano said.
“I’m supposed to have 34,000 detention beds for immigration,” she said. “How do I pay for those? We want to maintain 22,000-some odd border patrol agents. I’ve got to be able to pay their salaries.”
Although Napolitano hesitated to say the budget cuts could make the country more vulnerable to a terrorist attack, she acknowledged that national security will inevitably suffer.
“Look, I don’t think we can maintain the same level of security at all places around the country with sequester as without sequester,” she said. “We’re going to do and are doing everything we can within the limits sequester gives us. But, as I was mentioning earlier, if you have 5,000 fewer border patrol hours — or agents, you have 5,000 fewer Border Patrol agents. That has a real impact.”
Napolitano defended her warnings against claims by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and other Republicans that the Obama administration is trying to scare the American people about the impact of the budget cuts.
“I’m not here to scare people,” she said. “I’m here to inform and also to let people begin to plan — because they’re going to see these impacts in their daily lives, and they’re going to have to adjust and make their arrangements accordingly.”