Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Review Shows Sequestration Not Living Up to Obama's Alarms

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Review Shows Sequestration Not Living Up to Obama's Alarms

Article excerpt


Before "sequestration" took effect, the Obama administration issued specific -- and alarming -- predictions about what it would bring. There would be one-hour waits at airport security. Four-hour waits at border crossings. Prison guards would be furloughed for 12 days; FBI agents, up to 14.

At the Pentagon, the military health program would be unable to pay its bills. The mayhem would extend even into the pantries of the neediest Americans: Around the country, 600,000 low-income women and children would be denied federal food aid.

But none of those things happened.

Sequestration did hit, on March 1. And since then, the $85 billion budget cut has caused real reductions in many federal programs that people depend on. But it has not produced what the Obama administration predicted: widespread breakdowns in crucial government services.

The Washington Post recently checked 48 of those dire predictions about sequestration's impact. Just 11 have come true, and some effects are worse than forecast. But 24 predictions have not come to pass. In 13 cases, agencies said it is too soon to know.

So many predictions fell short because, in recent months, the administration and Congress did what was supposed to be impossible: They undid many of sequestration's scariest reductions. In the process, this supposedly ironclad budget cut -- ostensibly immune to political maneuvering -- became a symbol that nothing in Washington is beyond politics.

In some cases, politicians transferred cuts from high-value programs to lower-value ones. Employee travel was limited. Maintenance deferred.

But in other cases, they found "cuts" that didn't cause much real- world pain. The Justice Department, for instance, prevented furloughs by "cutting" $300 million in money that had already legally expired, as well as $45 million meant to house detainees who didn't exist.

This is why the sky didn't fall. Sequestration was intended to show there was no longer any escape from austerity in Washington.

There was.

"The dog barked. But it didn't bite," said Robert Bixby of the Concord Coalition, which pushes for fiscal responsibility in Washington. Mr. Bixby said he worries that this budget maneuvering will eventually backfire.

After all, sequestration is not finished, and another round of cuts is coming in October. "Next time you warn about those things, people just say, 'Yeah, sure,' and write it off as political hype," Mr. Bixby said. "There is that danger."

Sequestration had been drawn up as a "dumb" cut -- it would slash accounts at many federal agencies equally. There would be no gaming the system. No getting out.

It "won't consider whether we're cutting some bloated program that has outlived its usefulness or a vital service that Americans depend on every single day," President Barack Obama said Feb. …

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