Even as the White House and Capitol Hill continued to procrastinate and trade blame for not reaching a deal on a self-imposed fiscal austerity mechanism, pundits feared March 1 would witness a drastic blow to everything from hospital, school and city services across the U.S., to federal employee compensation and even LGBT workplace rights.
Sequestration, this week’s S-word in Washington and a euphemism for $85 billion in “arbitrary”, across-the-board public expenditure cuts over seven months, is due to kick in this Friday and may seriously hamper the economy’s limping recovery, according to economists.
President Barack Obama certainly is worried. Speaking at a shipbuilding company in Newport, Virginia, earlier this week, he said, “The impact of this policy won’t be felt overnight, but it will be real. The sequester will weaken America’s economic recovery. It will weaken our military readiness. And it will weaken the basic services that the American people depend on every single day.”
He may not be exaggerating. Since the 2011 Budget Control Act required $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction over a decade if Congress failed to schedule reductions, Pentagon has warned about the impending $500-billion reduction in military spending over the coming years.
At the heart of the stalemate, is the Republicans’ unwillingness to allow a greater measure of revenue support from modest tax increases.
Reports suggested that White House officials did not expect the Republican Minority Leader, Senator Mitch McConnell or the House of Representatives Speaker, John Boehner, to agree to tax increases this week.
Even as Education Secretary Arne Duncan warned the cuts could lead to job losses for 17,200 teachers; reduced college aid for 70,000 students; and reductions in access to child care, a high-profile incident of immigration officials releasing undocumented inmates from jails — owing to budget pressures — came to light on Wednesday.