By Aaron Blevins, 2/28/2013
Deadline for Congress to strike deal is Friday
The deadline to prevent across-the-board federal spending cuts — known as sequestration — is Friday, and local legislators fear that the deadline will come and go before Congress reaches a deal.
The Budget Control Act of 2011 included a provision that called for 8 to 10 percent cuts to federal agencies, a proposal thought to be so “unpalatable” that it would force Congress to compromise in reducing the federal deficit, U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said.
“That was assuming that both sides would find it unpalatable,” he said.
Schiff said House Republicans actually find the cuts desirable, though Democrats have issued dire warnings about the impacts of sequestration. On Wednesday, President Barack Obama’s administration advised citizens to “prepare yourself for job layoffs, reduced access to early education, slower emergency response, slashed healthcare and more people living on the street.”
The White House recently released a report on how the sequestration could affect California this year. According to the White House, the state could lose approximately $87.6 million in funding for primary and secondary education and $62.9 million in funds for teachers, aides and staff who assist children with disabilities.
Approximately 9,600 fewer low-income college students would receive financial aid, 3,690 fewer students could obtain work-study jobs and Head Start and Early Head Start services would be eliminated for about 8,200 children, according to the report.
It could also result in approximately 64,000 civilian Department of Defense employees being furloughed, $54 million in cuts to Army base operations, $15 million in cuts to Air Force operations and the cancellation of maintenance and repair to five Navy ships in San Diego.
Sequestration could also affect protections for clean air and clean water, Justice Assistance Grants, job search assistance, childcare, vaccines for children, public health, programs that serve victims of domestic violence and nutrition assistance for seniors, according to the White House.
“I think it will be deeply hurtful to the economy and to a lot of families around the country and in our district,” Schiff said, adding that inaction by Congress could cost tens of thousands of people their jobs. “It’s hard to see how anybody’s life will not be touched by this in an adverse way.”
He said residents could expect longer lines at the airport, fewer HIV tests being administered, less police officers in the field, fewer vaccines for children and larger classroom sizes.
U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said the cuts, if implemented, could be damaging to his constituents — especially those who depend on government services and those who work in the defense or national security industry. It will also have implications for food programs for children and the elderly, first responders, air traffic controllers, food inspectors, FEMA, supplemental nutrition systems and Head Start programs.
“It’s irrational,” he said. “It’s unnecessary, but it looks like it’s going to happen. And it will do a lot of harm to our economy and our people who rely on government programs. This is not thought through in terms of priorities.”
Schiff said he doesn’t believe a deal will be struck by Friday, as there is too much work to do and a lack of willingness to do it. He said GOP leadership in the House decided a month ago to let sequestration go into effect.
It is debatable how detrimental the cuts could be and how quickly they could take effect. Schiff said there is not much of a grace period, and agencies do not have much discretion on what cuts can be deferred.
“They will be felt more deeply over time,” he said, adding that it is possible that Congress could reach a deal shortly after the deadline passes. “That’s an optimistic view of things. If you were a betting person, you’d bet against Congress these days. And for good reason.”
Further, the legislators fear that sequestration could affect the country’s progress since the recession, leading the economy to contract.
“That’s going to be the worst thing for everybody,” Schiff said.
U.S. Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) said it is especially unfortunate for California, as the state “finally got back on its feet.” She said education cuts that were eliminated through the passage of Prop. 30 could resurface, though the cuts would not likely be as severe. Bass also lamented the possibility of affecting the operations of first responders.
“If the sequester goes through, it’s really going to set California back,” she said. “I think this is going to be very, very bad.”
Schiff said he would like to see a balanced approach to reducing the deficit, and Waxman agreed that Republicans and Democrats have to reach a compromise. Waxman said Republicans are arguing that they’ve already raised taxes this year, but he feels that there are some tax loopholes that need to be closed. And Democrats have already agreed to approximately $1 trillion in cuts over the last few years, he said.
“I’m pretty disgusted with the way the Republican leaders are handling this,” Waxman said, adding that any sequestration cuts must be made by September. “They won’t even bring anything up to a vote on the House floor that would resolve the issue.”
Schiff said he believes that Republicans will be more open to negotiating once residents begin to complain about the spending cuts.
As Waxman said, Congress is going from crisis to crisis. After averting the fiscal cliff and now managing the sequestration, lawmakers are charged with funding the government at the end of March and raising the debt ceiling this summer.
“I hate to think we would close the U.S. government down completely after we made sharp cuts in its ability to function,” Waxman said. “But that’s the next threat.”
If deals cannot be reached on sequestration and funding the government, it would give an “incredibly” bad signal to the rest of the world and the country’s creditors, Bass said. She said she isn’t certain a deal to prevent sequestration can be reached — even after the deadline.
“A few weeks ago, I didn’t think there was any way [the sequester] was going to happen. I was positive. I was convinced. Obviously, I was wrong,” she said. “They did what I thought was unthinkable.”