Politics

February 28, 2013

Odds don't favor last-minute budget pact

Democrats and Republicans can't even agree when spending cuts start going into effect.

William Douglas and Anita Kumar / McClatchy Newspapers

Still gridlocked over how or whether to avert the looming federal spending cuts known as sequestration, the two major parties found a new thing to argue about Wednesday: They don't agree on when the budget cuts start going into effect.

Obama and Boehner
click image to enlarge

President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner talked briefly about the budget impasse Wednesday – to no avail – at the unveiling of a statue in honor of civil rights icon Rosa Parks in the U.S. Capitol.

Reuters

HOW GOVERNMENT AGENCIES WILL BE COMPLYING WITH AUTOMATIC CUTS

Government agencies are already taking steps to comply with automatic spending cuts scheduled to begin taking effect Friday.

Defense Department

One of the Navy's premiere warships, the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman, sits pier-side in Norfolk, Va., its tour of duty delayed. The carrier and its 5,000-person crew were to leave for the Persian Gulf on Feb. 8, along with the guided-missile cruiser USS Gettysburg.

Homeland Security

Hundreds of illegal immigrants have been freed from jail across the country.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials say they had reviewed several hundred cases of immigrants and decided to put them on an "appropriate, more cost-effective form of supervised release" in a moved started Tuesday.

Health care

Hospitals, doctors and other Medicare providers will see a 2 percent cut in government reimbursements because once the cutback takes effect, Medicare will reimburse them at 98 cents on the dollar.

U.S. Coast Guard

Coast Guard rescue aircraft will fly fewer hours and cutters will patrol the seas for fewer hours, says the service's Commandant Adm. Robert J. Papp.

Transportation Department

The nation's busiest airports could be forced to close some of their runways, causing flight delays and cancellations.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood predicts flights to cities like New York, Chicago and San Francisco could have delays of up to 90 minutes at peak hours because fewer controllers will be on duty.

Though the spending cuts are scheduled to go into effect on Friday, furloughs of controllers won't kick in until April because the Federal Aviation Administration is required by law to give its employees advance notice. In addition to furloughs, the FAA is planning to eliminate midnight shifts for air traffic controllers at 60 airport towers, close over 100 control towers at smaller airports and reduce preventative maintenance of equipment.

Federal workers

More than half of the nation's 2.1 million government workers may be required to take furloughs if agencies are forced to trim budgets.

At the Pentagon alone that could mean 800,000 civilian workers would be off for 22 days each, spread across more than five months -- and lose 20 percent of their pay over that period.

Other federal agencies are likely to furlough several hundred thousand more workers.

Education

Some 70,000 students currently enrolled in pre-kindergarten Head Start would be cut from the program and 14,000 teachers would lose their jobs. For students with special needs, the cuts would eliminate some 7,200 teachers and aides. Up to 29 million student loan borrowers and some lenders may have to lay off staff or even close.

National parks

Visiting hours at all 398 national parks are likely to be cut and sensitive areas would be blocked off to the public.

-- The Associated Press

Republicans said the spending cuts would start Friday. The White House said it was really Saturday.

Either way, the seemingly trivial dispute underscored the inability of the two sides to avert spending cuts neither side wanted when they were passed and signed into law in 2011.

President Obama announced plans to meet Friday at the White House with congressional leaders of both parties, but neither side expected any action before the cuts start.

Indeed, Republicans in the House of Representatives signaled they're already looking past the all-but-certain start of the spending cuts to the next budget fight, over the legislation needed to finance the entire government.

Apart from the cuts in spending to the current budget, the government runs out of money in March and will need an appropriation to stay open through the end of the fiscal year, on Sept. 30. House Republicans said Wednesday that they would vote next week on a plan to finance the government, but would lock in the $85 billion in spending cuts. That move, certain to be rejected by Democrats, is likely to be part of the White House session Friday.

Obama did talk briefly about the budget impasse Wednesday with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio; House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.; and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., when he joined them for the dedication of civil rights icon Rosa Parks' statue inside the Capitol.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the president hoped that the lawmakers would have a "constructive discussion" at their full meeting Friday, but the political sniping suggested otherwise.

"Compromise here in Washington can usually be measured by a willingness of one leader to put forward proposals that demonstrate tough choices by his side or her side," Carney said. "What we have not seen from the Republicans is anything like the willingness to compromise inherent in the proposals that the president has put forward."

McConnell complained that "the Democrats who control Washington still haven't put forward a serious bipartisan plan; not the president and not his allies in Congress."

"Now, less than 48 hours before the clock runs out, all they've offered is a gimmicky tax hike that's designed to fail," McConnell added. "I hope they're not expecting a round of applause for this particular act of political bravery."

As a prelude to Friday's meeting, the White House and Democrats continued to outline the dire consequences that some Americans might find themselves in under sequester. Wednesday was Education Secretary Arne Duncan's turn.

Briefing reporters at the White House, Duncan listed a series of cuts that would come in the department's biggest areas: $400 million from early childhood education, affecting 70,000 children and 14,000 teachers; $725 million from a fund for poor children, which would affect 10,000 teachers; $600 million from special education, which would affect 7,200 teachers; $86 million in higher education, which means that 70,000 college students might go without grants and work study; and $60 million from areas or regions where Native Americans and military families live.

"For us to be thinking about taking steps backwards in all of these areas because folks in Washington can't get their act together is a level of dysfunction in Congress that -- it's just like unimaginable to me," Duncan said. "I can't tell you how troubling that is to me and, frankly, how angry it makes me feel."

The administration and House Republicans are deadlocked over finding an alternative to the $1.2 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years scheduled to start taking effect soon.

Obama has urged Congress to delay the cuts by passing a package of $930 billion in spending cuts and $580 billion in new tax revenue over 10 years by eliminating loopholes that benefit the wealthy and certain industries.

The Senate is expected to vote Thursday on a Democratic sequester alternative that would postpone cuts to Jan. 2, 2014.

 

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