Pain will indeed be 'automatic' if Congress and the president fail to make a budget deal by Friday

February 26, 2013 

The consequences of “sequestration,” the automatic budget cuts that will go into effect failing a budget deal between President Obama and Congress, will not be as dire as the “fiscal cliff” threatened some months ago. It’s not akin to the nation defaulting on its debts.

But few if any Americans will be untouched by spending cuts in all areas of government (including civilian employees of government) that will hit if President Obama and Republicans in the U.S. House fail to make a budget deal. “Sequestration” as it’s called is a result of bipartisan agreements basically to force lawmakers to face up to the need to get the federal budget under control. Sequestration essentially makes them send themselves to stand in the corner. Unfortunately, while they’re in the corner the American people will be up against the wall.

The standoff, for all the partisan wind blowing around it, really comes down to the White House demanding that some tax loopholes for the rich and for corporations be closed, thus bringing in additional revenue toward debt reduction, and the stubborn stance by House Republicans that no, the rich shouldn’t be touched and instead the president should suggest ways to cut entitlement programs, including Medicare and Social Security.

Government-haters

Once again, House Speaker John Boehner appears to be a frustrated and weak leader, tormented by the tea party element that, though it represents a relative fraction of the American people, seems to have a stranglehold on Boehner and the mainstream Republicans in the House. The tea partyers don’t like government even though they’re a part of it.

They want no tax hikes, period, and cuts in all programs that help average and poor people. And the consequences do not matter.

What are those consequences?

Just looking at North Carolina, they are dramatic.

Some smaller airports may close for a lack of air traffic controllers, who’ll be on furloughs. At other airports, the waits for flights will be longer and the movement through security considerably slower.

Military budgets would be cut 13 percent, because “across-the-board” in sequestration means what it says. No area of government is spared.

In this state, that means many civilian employees connected to the military, about 22,000 of them, would be furloughed, a loss of income to them of $117 million. That, of course, would affect the economies of the communities near military bases.

Hit for teachers

In the area of public education, the automatic cuts will automatically put something like 350 teachers out of work, and even students with disabilities will see some of the help federal funding provides go away. What will they do? Well, they won’t be able to count on the state, which is pinched for money and now in the hands of Republicans who aren’t too friendly toward assistance programs of any kind.

Oh, and don’t worry, college students. You’ll get bitten as well, with less financial aid. Little children naturally have to do their part in budget-cutting because of Washington stalemate, so fewer of them will be able to get into early childhood programs such as Head Start.

Even now, as the deadline nears and these automatic cuts loom as possible, there’s a chance that House Republican leaders will realize the public pounding they’re going to take if sequestration happens. But it appears that Boehner and his mates are perfectly happy to let President Obama lurch from economic crisis to economic crisis through the next four years.

That is bad governing, and Republicans should have learned from the November election that it’s also bad politics.

The American people know their elected government won’t always run smoothly, but they expect, rightly so, that members of Congress won’t rely on some kind of economic automatic pilot instead of doing their jobs. And if sequestration happens Friday, and the pain comes, members of Congress are going to feel it, too.

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