The sequester is due to take effect in seven days, March 1. The $85 billion to be cut during the next seven months reduces defense programs about 8 percent and domestic programs about 5 percent. Under the terms of the sequester, federal spending would be cut by $1.2 trillion from March 2013 to March 2021. In fiscal year 2013 alone, states will lose an estimated $6.4 billion in federal funding.
A New York Times editorial has itemized examples of these indiscriminate reductions.
National Security: Two-week furloughs for law-enforcement personnel reducing Coast Guard operations include drug control and aid to navigation, by 25 percent. Cutbacks in Customs agents and airport security checkpoints will “substantially increase passenger wait times,” the Homeland Security Department said, creating delays of as much as an hour at busy airports. The Border Patrol will lose the equivalent of 5,000 agents a year. The cut of $900 million in the Energy Department’s nuclear security programs will create delays in refurbishing the weapons stockpile and decrease of security at manufacturing sites. Environmental cleanup at nuclear weapons sites in Washington, Tennessee, South Carolina and Idaho will be delayed. FEMA’s disaster relief fund will lose more than $1 billion.
Air Traffic: With about 10 percent of the Federal Aviation Administration’s work force of 47,000 employees on furlough each day, including air traffic controllers, to meet a $600 million cut, air traffic will be reduced, causing delays and disruptions, particularly at peak travel times.
Criminal Justice: Every F.B.I. employee will be furloughed for nearly three weeks over the course of the year, the equivalent of 7,000 employees. This $550 million cut will reduce the number of background checks on gun buyers and response times on cyberintrusion and counterterrorism investigations. A cut of $338 million for 37,000 prison employees results in a two-week furlough for each of them, with lockdowns at federal prisons that increase the chances for violence. It will also prevent the opening of three new prison buildings. With furloughs from a $100 million cut, federal prosecutors will handle 2,600 fewer cases: thousands of criminals and civil violators will not face justice, and less money will be collected in fines.
Early Childhood Education: About 70,000 children will lose access to Head Start, and 14,000 teachers and workers will be laid off, because of a $424 million cut. Parents of about 30,000 low-income children will lose child-care assistance.
Health and Safety: A cut of $350 million to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will mean 25,000 fewer breast and cervical cancer screenings for low-income women; 424,000 fewer H.I.V. tests; and the purchase of 540,000 fewer doses of vaccine for flu, hepatitis, and measles. About 900,000 fewer patients lacking insurance will receive primary care when community health centers are cut by $120 million.
Prices will rise and food will be less safe from black-market sales of unexpected food after a three-week furlough of all food safety employees produces a shortage of meat, poultry, and eggs. The intermittent shutting of meat-packing plants could cost the industry up to $10 billion in production losses. Air-monitoring sites and over 100 water-quality projects will be shut down while the $100 million cut from Superfund enforcement will permit companies to avoid cleaning up environmental disasters.
Research: The cancelation and/or reduction of almost 1,000 grants from the National Science Foundation negatively affects research in clean energy, cybersecurity, and reform of science and math education.
Recreation: All 398 national parks will have shorter hours while some will close camping and hiking areas. Some wildlife refuges may be shuttered, and firefighting and law enforcement will be cut back. Without resources to issue permits, inspect facilities, and do environmental reviews, development in oil, gas, and coal will be curtailed.
Environment: The EPA monitoring of oil spills, air pollution, and hazardous waste will be diminished, and the color-coded system that keeps schoolchildren and others warned to stay inside on bad-air days will be reduced if not eliminated. Consumers will have less availability to new models of cars and trucks because of longer times to determine whether these meet emission standards.
Defense Personnel: Furloughs lasting up to 22 days will be imposed for civilian employees, who do jobs like guarding military bases, handle budgets, and teach the children of service members. More than 40 percent of those employees are veterans. The military’s health insurance program, Tricare, could have a shortfall of up to $3 billion, which could lead to denial of elective medical care for retirees and dependents of active-duty service members.
Military Operations: The Navy plans to shut down four air wings on March 1. After 90 days, the pilots in those air wings to retrain them. The Nimitz and George H. W. Bush carrier strike groups will not be ready for deployment later this year because the service will run out of operations and maintenance money. Therefore the Truman and Eisenhower strike groups will remain deployed indefinitely, affecting thousands of service members and their families. Reductions of continuous bomber flights outside of Afghanistan will be reduced will be accompanied by cutbacks to satellite systems and missile warning systems.
Training and Maintenance: The Army, which has done most of the fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, will be forced to curtail training for 80 percent of its ground forces; by the end of the year, two-thirds of its brigade combat teams will fall below acceptable levels of combat readiness. Air Force pilots expect to lose more than 200,000 flying hours. Beginning in March, roughly two-thirds of the Air Force’s active-duty combat units will curtail training at their home bases and by July will no longer be capable of carrying out their missions. Some ship and aircraft maintenance will be canceled for the third and fourth quarters of the fiscal year, resulting in fewer available weapons.
Labor: More than 3.8 million people jobless for six months or longer may have unemployment benefits reduced by as much as 9.4 percent. Thousands of veterans will lose job counseling. Fewer OSHA inspectors mean 1,200 fewer visits to work sites. One million fewer people can get help finding or preparing for new jobs.
In an open letter to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) addresses his speech at the Heritage Foundation and its relationship to the sequester before she lists a number of specifics. Boxer writes,
“You delivered a speech outlining four major issues that you say are now of great importance to you: education, health care, job growth and innovation… I am sure you are aware that sequestration would devastate all of these priorities. Here are a few examples of funding cuts that would take place in 2013 alone if we cannot reverse the sequester.”
The sequester means greater danger for everyone in this country through bad food and water, workplace accidents, less homeland security, and more crime while education and training will be reduced. At the same time, job loss of hundreds of thousands of people will likely throw the country back into a serious recession. Prices will rise, and salaries will go down.
ABC News reported what agency heads wrote about the effects of the sequester:
“Greater risk of wildfires, fewer OSHA inspections and a risk of more workplace deaths, 125,000 people risking homelessness with cuts to shelters and housing vouchers, neglect for mentally ill and homeless Americans who would lose services, Native Americans getting turned away from hospitals, cuts to schools on reservations and prison lockdowns. There’s also a higher risk of terrorism with surveillance limited and the FBI potentially unable to disrupt plots, closed housing projects, and 600,000 women and children thrown off WIC.”
They also predict less reporting of major storms, pest-infested crops, longer waits for passports, higher risk of terrorism, trouble tracking fingerprints, less security at facilities abroad, almost 2,000 fewer small business loans,
It’s not as if the people in the United States have not already suffered cuts. Education has lost $1.1 billion since 2010, eliminating 44 federal education programs. Food imports have skyrocketed, but the FDA has staffing to inspect only 2.3 percent of them. A housing program for low-income seniors was cut in half since 2010, resulting in no new housing and 10 seniors for each existing unit on waiting lists.
Heating for low-income homes was cut by one-third although energy prices have increased by 31 percent. Social Security has cut 6,500 workers and closed 23 offices with plans to cut 11 more despite the 700 percent increase in claims last year. With a 13 percent cut in subsidies for low-income family child care, only one in six children eligible for that assistance now receive it.
Prominent congressional Republicans have said they prefer these disastrous spending cuts to a balanced approach that would close wasteful tax loopholes for millionaires and special interests.
As a cartoon in my local paper wrote, “If a rock just passes by earth, it’s called an asteroid. And if the rock burns up in the atmosphere, it’s called a meteor. And if the rock hits the ground, it’s called a meteorite. But if it just sits there like a rock, it’s called Congress.”