Obama’s Sequester-Mention Forecasts a Looming Crisis Next Month
Before launching into climate change, immigration reform, and gun violence in his State of the Union address, President Obama dropped a mention of "about a trillion dollars worth" of federal budget cuts that are set to "automatically go into effect this year."
Sound familiar? It should.
Inside the beltway the measure is called the “sequester”: a package of cuts divided more or less equally between domestic and military spending, set to go into effect March 1st unless a new deficit-reduction agreement is reached. It totals over $1 trillion in the next decade, and this year’s installment, if implemented, would trim budgets by about $85 billion.
"These sudden, harsh, arbitrary cuts would jeopardize our military readiness. They’d devastate priorities like education, energy, and medical research," Obama said Tuesday night. "They would certainly slow our recovery, and cost us hundreds of thousands of jobs."
Ironically, Democrats and Republicans already agreed on the cuts in the sequester, and President Obama signed it into law as part of a deal to raise the federal debt ceiling in 2011. But it was intended as a measure of last resort, “designed to be abhorrent to both parties,” and therefore force them into more cooperative, benign means of deficit reduction.
So far, no alternative has emerged; that abhorrence explained President Obama’s urgency last night, and the willingness of Republican leaders like John Boehner to try to reach a deal by March 1st. If no bargain is hatched for 2013, we’re looking at:
- Up to a million jobs lost, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
- Seventy thousand kids bumped off Head Start and thousands of teaching positions in peril, according to the Obama administration.
- Food inspectors absent from their posts because of furloughs.
- Half a million mothers with young children cut off from welfare benefits through WIC, according to Congressional Democrats.
- Cuts to financial aid grants and federal work study funds for young Americans.
- Potential loss of access to mental health treatment for up to 373,000 Americans, according to the White House.
- $1.6 billion less for health research, according to Think Progress.
And on the military side:
- Postponed deployment of the USS Harry S Truman, leaving just one lonely aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf.
- A hiring freeze in the Army, Air Force, and Navy.
- Up to 30 days unpaid leave for civilian Air Force employees, and potential furloughs for all 800,000 civilian Department of Defense workers, according to the Washington Post.
Senate Democrats are set to offer a bill this week to replace the sequester and Republicans will likely counter with a bill of their own. A deal must be reached to avoid the cuts, but there's still hesitancy from both parties to settle the matter. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that the two sides are unlikely to reach an agreement.
Chris Lewis is a reporter at Campus Progress. Follow him on Twitter @chris_lewis_.
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