Dan Master| Staff Writer
If congress does not act with the next few days, across the board cuts to government agencies could affect hundreds of thousands of government workers. What is at stake is whether federal employees will be forced to a 14 day furlough-mandatory leave without pay- over the course of the upcoming months.
The pieces of legislation that are propelling the “sequester” forward are the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA) and the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (ATPRA). Both laws mandate that if a congress does not take action to reduce the budget deficit by March 1st 2013, a partial discontinuation of governmental funds devoted to agencies ranging from the Department of Defense to Department of Justice will occur. At this point, federal government workers have been notified of the potential for sequestration, and the various agencies are preparing for the potential of sequestration.
The amount of money that will be cut from existing governmental agencies is 1.2 trillion dollars. That is, if no agreement is reached before the funds are slashed from agencies.
As far as the public opinion ramifications of the BCA and ATPRA go, more Americans will blame the republicans than democrats, according to a Pew Research Center Poll. Only 31% of the public think that the sequester would be more the fault of Obama, while 49% think that congressional republicans are to blame. A minority of 11% think that both the president and congressional republicans are at fault.
However tempting playing the blame game may be, the reality of the situation is that the budget deficit is large and needs to be reduced. That is the unpartisan conclusion based on the problem. The issue is how to go about doing that. For the democrats, a hybrid of spending cuts and marginal tax increases on the highest wage earners is the answer, which, by its nature, suggests a more long-term and systematic approach to deficit reduction. Republicans, on the other hand, want real results in the short-term to help create a sustainable trajectory for the longer-term. Presently, both sides of the aisle have rejected the other’s proposal because of the ideological discrepancy between slash and burn cuts and higher marginal tax rates on the highest earning Americans.
Back in November, after his reelection, President Obama was confronted by reporters on his insistence on raising taxes on the highest wage earners.
“While there may be disagreement in Congress over whether or not to raise taxes on folks making over $250,000 a year, nobody — not Republicans, not Democrats — want taxes to go up for folks making under $250,000 a year.”
He went on to say “I’m not wedded to every aspect of my plan. I’m open to compromise.”
In a meeting with the Japanese Prime Minister on Friday, Obama answered questions regarding the possible sequester. He said that the effects of across the board spending cuts will harm the country and cost many Americans their jobs.
“This is not an abstraction-people will lose their jobs. The unemployment rate might tick up again,” the president said.
There is a disconnect between the president’s rhetoric and that of John Bohner, the Speaker of the house. Bohner claims that Obama’s inability to coalesce different ideologies into one budget proposal is the reason for the legislative turmoil the country finds itself in.
Boehner said “it’s [the sequestration]is the product of the president’s failed leadership.”
Boehner’s accusation of failed leadership goes further. He says that the reason the budget battle is coming to the fore now instead of prior to Obama’s reelection is because of the possible backlash this debate would have on election returns.
In a Wall Street Journal Column, Boehner said “having first proposed and demanded the sequester, it would make sense that the president lead the effort to replace it. Unfortunately, he has put forth no detailed plan that can pass Congress.”
The president’s cabinet has not been silent on the issue. Ray LaHood, Transportation Secretary, alluded to specific effects of the sequester. Specifically, he said that airports will consistently have longer wait times than they do now.
“Delays in these major airports will ripple across the country. Cuts to budgets mean preventative maintenance and quick repair of runway equipment might not be possible, which could lead to more delays,” Secretary Lahood said. “And once airlines see the potential impact of these furloughs, we expect that they will change their schedules and cancel flights.”
According to the Gallup Polling agency, 51% of Americans believe that the economy is getting worse, while 44% think that it is getting better. If the results are as tangible and as related to chain reaction type effects on the country the Transportation Secretary referred to, there is no telling if that aforementioned poll will skyrocket.
One thing is for certain, the potential for sequester is not an “abstraction.”