John Baer: Congress' $85 billion cut won't crush us

Posted: February 28, 2013

SEQUESTRATION is coming! Sequestration is coming!

The government, assuming Congress remains true to its moribund self through Friday, won't be able to spend in its usual thoughtful, responsible way.

And this is bad?

If you haven't been paying attention (and a new Washington Post-Pew Research Center Poll says that just 18 percent of you have), so-called onerous, death-dealing, economy-crushing spending cuts are to take effect at week's end.

Why?

Because President Obama and Congress approved such cuts because they thought they'd agree on ways to stop them, and, of course, they haven't.

Go ahead. Shake your head.

So, it appears that this year's $3.7 trillion federal budget will be sliced by $85 billion en route to cuts totaling $1.2 trillion over the next several years.

An aside: Know what a trillion is? It's a million millions, a thousand billions, a 1 with 12 zeros after it. We're talking significant amounts of your money potentially saved.

Cuts hit everything from meat inspectors to air-traffic controllers, public education to law enforcement, and public health to national security.

The White House estimates that Pennsylvania could lose more than $69 million.

But don't expect blood in the streets or immediate mayhem.

First, it's not certain that this will happen.

Remember the scary, imminent "fiscal cliff"? Didn't happen.

Remember the murderous "zombie apocalypse"? Didn't happen.

The latter likely because of statements from NASA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a/k/a your government at work.

So this might not happen either. Or last very long.

"I'm in the fairly unique position of believing we're going to work this out," says Philly Democratic U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah.

Maybe not by Friday, he adds, but maybe sometime next week.

However, U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach, of the GOP, whose district includes parts of Montgomery and Chester counties, says, "I don't see anything coming together in the House."

But, even if sequestration happens, I question its estimated impact. A White House state-by-state analysis released this week is fuzzy.

It says, for example, that Pennsylvania will lose $24.6 million in education funding, putting "around 360 teacher and aide jobs at risk."

But our state spends $26.5 billion in this area, including local spending and $1.1 billion from the feds, so such a cut wouldn't exactly bankrupt schools.

And since we have 123,668 teachers and who-knows-how-many aides, "around" 360 "at risk" doesn't sound death-rattling to the classroom.

This is especially so since local districts, not the feds, decide where and what to cut.

I also suspect that numbers are fudged on the national level.

We're told that 800,000 civilian Defense Department employees face once-a-week furlough days even though the department's website puts its total civilian force at 718,000.

But, hey, maybe they've quietly and quickly been hiring, you know, an extra 82,000 workers.

Wording in White House estimates also is interesting.

The state "will lose" $509,000 in a sort of "meh" funding for Justice Assistance Grants. But a much more emotional loss is couched: "up to" 1,800 disadvantaged and vulnerable children "could lose" access to day care.

So, even though political hype surrounds all issues, this sequester seems especially suspect.

If its impact is as dire as estimated, why did the White House wait until the week of the deadline to spell it out?

If its impact puts kids, seniors, public health and national security at risk, why not adopt a House GOP plan giving the president flexibility to move the cuts off those areas and on to others? As Gerlach says, "That makes sense. We may vote that next week."

If Republicans so oppose government spending, why is the $3.7 trillion budget more than last year's? As Fattah says, "They're complaining about spending that they appropriated."

And, finally, if our elected leaders - who got us to this point - impose cuts and furloughs harmful to even some citizens, don't forget that salaries of the president and all members of Congress are exempt from sequestration.


Email: baerj@phillynews.com

Blog: philly.com/BaerGrowls

Columns: philly.com/JohnBaer

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