Sequester Deadline Hits: Sun Still Rises

Politics

In what may be the biggest anti-climax since the failed Mayan calendar prediction of the end of the world, the deadline for massive federal spending cuts arrived with a whimper.

Despite predictions of Armageddon by Washington Democrats, the sun still rose in the east and it appears the planet continues to spin on its axis.

 Sequester Deadline Hits Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Sequester Deadline Hits Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

This date has been looming since August of 2011, and many pundits and lawmakers in Washington assumed things would never get this far. Many publications are referring to March 1, 2013, and the random, across the board spending cuts as a day that would never come, and an event that would never happen.

In listening to a parade of officials including President Obama, Cabinet members, Democratic leadership in Congress, and pundits from the economic and political spectrum, the impression as recently as two weeks ago, was that America was facing the end of the world as we know it. Chicken Little and the boy who cried wolf could have picked up a few pointers.

As the drop deadline neared these nihilists softened their message, but by that point the damage was done. News outlets ramped up their predictions of the nation’s demise and everyone was busy girding their loins for the worst. In following the news coverage, one would expect the landscape on March 1 to resemble something post-apocalyptic, think Mad Max or other films of that ilk.

But that is not the case; rather it seems the cuts will roll out over time so the impact will be slow. Undoubtedly it will wind up feeling like the slow drip of a Chinese water torture that will find many Americans wondering ‘what happened to our economic recovery?’

He are some predictions on how the cuts will emerge, and what the impact will truly be. First a bit of a timeline:

On Friday, March 1 the sequester goes into effect. The first step has the White House budget office issuing an official sequestration order. That document will cancel $85 billion in spending authority for the remainder the fiscal year, a period of seven months. The budget office will also submit a report to Congress spelling out the level of cuts each agency must make to its programs, projects and activities.

Beginning March 1, and moving forward federal workers will be put on notice and grants and contracts will be curtailed. One federal agency has already taken the step of issuing a 30-day furlough notice to its employees. That’s the National Labor Relations Board, and the Department of Justice has plans to take similar action by Friday.

On CNN.com, Sean West, U.S. policy director for the Eurasia Group, is quoted as offering this explanation.”By [April], government agencies will execute reduced work schedules and the budget crunch will become more acute,” West said. “The pain will pick up speed from there.”

Needless to say, anyone directly affected by the cuts through job loss, or lost pay from furloughs will feel the effect right away. But for the general public, that impact will likely be delayed and uneven. And different cuts will trickle down in different ways.

One example would be that of a government worker who is facing a furlough. That individual may think twice about buying a new car, or making some other large purchase, choosing to marshal resources. Another impact could come from a federal contractor who is getting less business may hold off on making new hires. A broader impact could strike as summer travelers can expect to find reduced hours at national parks or increased delays at airports.

Of course this is all speculation as we sit at Day 1 of the Sequester, and the exact timeline of how it will unfold remains unclear. Not to mention the possibility that lawmakers could eventually end this political game of “chicken” and come to an agreement about replacing the cuts.

Most of the federal agencies planning furloughs will act their own schedules. It has been learned that the FAA will formally give notice on Monday that it plans to close more than 150 contractor-staffed air traffic control towers on April 1, and another 20, or so towers by Sept. 30. Those towers affected are located at small and medium-sized airports. The potential impact of those closures would affect nearly 6 percent of all commercial airline traffic. All federal agencies will also be cutting back on new contracts and will reduce federal grants money going to everything from schools to airports to states.

By the end of March the furloughs are expected to begin. At that time those federal workers subject to furloughs will start working fewer days. At that point, the impact of the cuts will likely trickle down to the public. The impact will be noticed in the form of delays in federal services. Those delays could take the form of slower decisions about disability benefits and the processing of visas, to providing airport security, as well as the aforementioned cutbacks in the hours at national parks.

Those furloughed employees will be prohibited from working for a set number of days without pay. The furloughs will vary from agency to agency.

CNN.com reports the Pentagon says workers will face furloughs one day a week for up to 22 weeks beginning in April. Taking a different tack, the Department of Housing and Urban Development has furloughs planned for just seven days. HUD offices nationwide would be closed on those seven days. And with the cuts coming at the height of tax season, furloughs at the IRS won’t start until summer.

Also by the end of March, Congress needs to pass legislation setting funding levels for the rest of fiscal year 2013, which ends Sept. 30. This sets up another potential stand off, but could also provide a vehicle that could bring sequester to an end. If that doesn’t work, budget negotiations in April and May hold the potential to do the trick.

In the meantime it is a wait and see game for the American public as to whether the sky will truly fall, or we have once again been duped by lawmakers sensationalizing the issue. All the while Democrats and Republicans continue their ideological power struggle with the lives of the people they are allegedly elected to serve hanging in the balance.

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