The Sequester

Good evening everybody and welcome to In the News.  Glad you could be with us again today.  I want to talk a little bit about the Sequester today.  On March first there are about $1.2 trillion worth of cuts that are scheduled to go into effect.  And they stand to impact just about every major federal program there is, from defense to food inspection.  And of course we’re one week out and there is no agreement as of yet, so once again it looks like we’re going to come down to the wire here.  And so we want to talk a little bit about what’s happening, where we are as of this point and what it all means. 

Before we get into that we have a little announcement to make.  I just want to let everyone know that In the News has a brand new website.   The address is www.itnshow.com and it is now live.  So we’d like to invite you all to check that out.  It’s actually been up for a few weeks now but there were some minor tweaks that we were making to the site so we didn’t formally announce it.

And truth be told there are still some minor tweaks that we’re going to be making here and there as we go forward.  As anyone who’s ever built a site or had one built for them can tell you, websites are never really finished.  They’re never really perfect.  So you just kind of have to get it as close as possible to what you want and then move forward.  So that’s where we are now. 

But we hope that you will check the site out and make it one of your regular stops whenever you are online.  You can subscribe to our RSS feed or our mailing list and our episodes will be emailed to you as soon as they premiere.  We’ve got a nice little feature there called the ITN bookshelf as well, where we recommend books that we’ve read and loved. And think that you’ll enjoy as well. 

We also plan to roll out a blog over the next few weeks.  So make sure you’re on our mailing list and you’ll know as soon as that goes live.  So the address again is www.itnshow.com.  Please check it out and sign up.  We thank you as always for your support and we thank you for continuing to listen to us and letting us help you make sense of the craziness that is American politics these days. 

And speaking of the craziness that is American politics these days, we come to the subject of the Sequester.  The Sequester of course is the fancy name given to the automatic spending cuts that are scheduled to go into effect on March 1st, so next Friday as I’m looking at my calendar here.  The Sequester is part of the debt ceiling agreement made 2 summers ago, in the summer of 2011.

You’ll remember that during the summer of 2011 there were the debt ceiling negotiations that led to a deal to cut the deficit by about $2 ½ trillion in exchange for raising the debt ceiling.  As part of the agreement the WH and Congress agreed to come up $1.2 trillion of deficit reduction over the ensuing year and a half.  And if they didn’t, large across the board spending cuts would go into effect for just about every program.

The whole point of the Sequester was to make it so bad and have it be so onerous, that neither party would want it to actually happen.  Neither party would want to see it go into effect and so would be motivated to find an alternative solution.  Of course they did not find an alternative solution.  And the deadline was reached on Dec. 31st of last year. 

We then had that whole fiasco that was the Fiscal Cliff deal in which Congress, once again instead of dealing with the issue, kicked the can down the road for 2 months.  And so here we are, 2 months down the road, once again approaching the deadline.

So what exactly does the Sequester entail and what will be affected?  The Sequester consists of $85 billion of across the board spending cuts that would go into effect immediately, March 1st.  The rest, the rest of the $1.2 trillion, would go into effect over the next 10 years.  But the cuts on March 1st would have a real impact. 

The Department of Defense’s civilian work force, some 800,000 employees would face furloughs.  Homeland Security, the Coast Guard, Secret Service, FBI and state and local first responders would all see furloughs.  Forty thousand FAA employees including air traffic controllers would face furloughs.  Ten thousand teachers would face layoffs along with thousands of other educational staffers.  Some 70,000 Head start kids would be removed from pre-k programs.  Meatpacking plants would be shuttered because they wouldn’t be able to operate without federal meat inspectors to inspect and approve their products. Almost 4 million Americans would see their unemployment benefits affected.   

An important note here, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and Veteran’s benefits are exempted.  Those programs were never included in the Sequester agreement so they’re safe from the cuts this time around.  But nevertheless, there are going to be some real consequences to these cuts.

So that begs the question, what’s being done about it?   Well, in a word little.  Very little is being done about it.  We are not aware of any negotiations that are taking place either out in front or behind the scenes.  Everyone in Washington seems to be blaming each other. 

The President gave a speech this past Tuesday in which he implored Congress to take some action to avoid the cuts.  Republicans, of course, blamed the President for not leading on this issue.  Speaker of the House John Boehner – who is no longer willing to negotiate one-on-one with the WH after the Fiscal Cliff debacle in December, wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today challenging the President to avert a crisis that according to Speaker Boehner he helped to create.  Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell – made it clear last week that he won’t see this come down to the last minute again.  He said you could read his lips; he is not interested in 11th hour negotiations.  

Some people want it to happen.  Then of course, you have the rank and file members in both parties.  There are people on both sides who are ready to blame each other for going past the deadline.   And there are people on both sides who say having this happen isn’t the worst thing in the world.

Some Republicans see this as a way to cut spending in a way that Congress never could or would do otherwise and so they’re pleased about that.  Some Democrats see it as a way to bring much needed cuts to the Defense Department which is almost impossible to cut the budget of without being attacked as being soft on national defense.  Even though there is plenty of waste at the Defense Department as well. 

So what’s it look like is going to happen?  Well, from where we’re sitting now it’s hard to see how the deadline gets averted.  It seems that both sides have, instead of looking for solutions, have begun to plan how they’re going to win the blame game.  It seems that both sides think that if we pass the deadline and the economy takes a hit, the American people will blame the other party just a little bit more. 

Now the President said that if Congress can’t come up with a large solution, they should at least come up with a small solution.  I was a little disappointed to hear him say that.  Not because it’s not practical for him to suggest that, it certainly is.

But because I think any small deal would be a failure of leadership.  Congress has had a year and half to address this problem.  The last thing we need is another 2 or 3 month temporary, band aid solution to a problem that both the President and Congress have created.  This problem is completely man made.  It was not something that was thrust upon us.  And this is not some kind of budget issue that barely anyone will be affected by.  This issue is going to affect people’s jobs and livelihoods.

As the President himself said the other day, this is not an abstraction, people will lose their jobs.  Well, if that’s the case that should be enough motivation to get a lasting, large, real solution to this problem.  We hope that those leaders in Washington DC see it that way as well.  But as of right now, it’s not looking too good.

So we’ll keep an eye on it for you and we’ll bring you the developments as they happen.  Thanks for tuning in everybody, that’s our show for tonight.  Remember to check out our site at www.itnshow.com, that’s www.itnshow.com.  And remember to keep your comments coming in to comments@itnshow.com.  That’s comments@itnshow.com.  Until next time everyone.  Good night.