Unless Congress comes to an unlikely and very quick agreement, most domestic federal spending must by law be slashed by an immediate 8.2 percent on March 1, with only Social Security, Medicaid and veterans’ benefits exempted.
According to estimated from the Office of Management and Budget, defense spending will have to be cut by 9.4 to 10 percent, depending on the category. Payments to Medicare providers — doctors, hospitals, etc. — will be cut by 2 percent.
And because the law dictates that the cuts be across-the-board, rather than targeted, the impact is some areas could be severe. Agency directors have very little if any leeway in trying to protect particular programs.
James Clapper, director of National Intelligence, has warned that “the sheer size of the cut will create an immediate national security crisis situation” in the CIA, FBI and other agencies. Border Patrol agents will be laid off, as will federal prosecutors and airline security officers. (If you’re flying, you might want to double the time needed to get through security.)
On the social-spending side, to cite just a few specific examples, some 10,000 Americans will be cut off from the AIDS drugs that keep them alive; 70,000 children will be pushed off Head Start; 373,000 seriously mentally ill people will no longer have a means of treatment. The list goes on and on.
The overall economy will likely suffer as well. According to the Congressional Budget Office, that reduced federal spending will dampen growth and cut job creation by some 750,000 through the end of the year.
Unfortunately, there appears to be little to no hope in Washington that such cuts can be avoided, at least at first. Our leaders have come to the conclusion that no matter how much pain these reductions cause the American people, the political pain they themselves would suffer by having to compromise would be greater still. So instead of acting, they are preparing to blame each other when the outcries come.
The Republicans are basing their PR strategy on the claim that the sequester was actually President Obama’s idea, and they are correct: The Obama White House did propose the idea of a sequester back in 2011, believing that if the required budget cuts were painful enough, both sides would be compelled to compromise in order to avoid them.
However, the sequester — or “Obamaquester”, in the GOP’s strained terminology — was made necessary in the first place because House Republicans had made it quite clear that without a mandatory mechanism to slash spending, they would refuse to raise the nation’s debt ceiling, potentially sending the country into a disastrous default. That was back before the election, when House Republicans were so full of themselves that they seemed fully capable of doing just that.
(Just to refresh your memory — these artificial fiscal crises do tend to blur into one another by now — this particular confrontation in 2011 is the one that convinced Standard & Poors to lower the nation’s bond rating.)
In other words, the record shows that Republicans forced the crisis, and now want to blame Obama for proposing an escape hatch. I don’t believe the tactic is going to work, in large part because once again, the GOP has put itself into a position of trying to sell a hard argument. In this case, after stomping their feet, holding their breath and generally making public fools of themselves demanding harsh spending cuts, they are going to try to put the blame for spending cuts on Obama?
Good luck with that.
Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee and the GOP’s spending guru, is on record back in 2011 as lauding the sequester, and his fellow House Republicans voted 174-66 in favor of it. (House Democrats split right down the middle, with 95 supporting it and 95 voting against it). In addition, Ryan has promised House conservatives that he will soon produce a budget that will balance the budget within 10 years, and do it without new taxes. The magnitude of spending cuts required to make that happen will dwarf those being implemented under the sequester.
The sequester, in other words, can be seen as a mini test drive for the GOP’s overall fiscal policy. What happens to government services when we implement just a fraction of the massive spending cuts that the GOP is demanding? What happens to the economy when federal spending falls by a relatively minor $85 billion between March and the end of the fiscal year in October?
By already trying to put the blame on Obama, the GOP is in effect predicting that the results won’t be pretty.
– Jay Bookman