Barring an unlikely last-minute deal, $85 billion will be cut from the federal budget beginning Friday — and every American will feel the pain.
The deep cuts, known as sequestration, will dramatically impact military, domestic and certain health care programs and ripple across the nation.
Unemployment payments will shrink. School systems will lose funding. Doctors who treat Medicare patients will receive smaller reimbursements. Air traffic controllers could be laid off, leading to long travel delays. And 800,000 civilian military employees could be furloughed.
And it will then get worse, as the $85 million would be the start of $1 trillion in cuts over the next decade — all but guaranteeing a slowdown of the nation’s economy.
The sequester was born out of 2011 Washington negotiations over raising the nation’s debt ceiling when Republicans and Democrats clashed over taxes and deficit reduction.
The deal set up the painful sequester as incentive for the two parties to reach a comprehensive budget deal. It was postponed for two months during the fiscal cliff negotiations, but time now is running out — again — and the Beltway blame game has begun.
President Obama and his staff will embark on a publicity blitz this week to convince the public to rally Congress to reach a compromise before the deadline.
Obama said Saturday that the nation’s fragile economic recovery could be crushed if the cuts go into effect.
“They will eliminate good jobs,” Obama said in his weekly address. “They will leave many families who are already stretched to the limit scrambling to figure out what to do.”
He declared that would be avoided if the GOP agreed to a mix of spending cuts and tax hikes.
“Unfortunately, it appears that Republicans in Congress have decided that instead of compromising – instead of asking anything of the wealthiest Americans – they would rather let these cuts fall squarely on the middle class,” Obama said.
Democrats point to polls that show the public favors their approach to the crisis.
But Republicans, who just allowed tax rates to rise on the wealthy as part of the fiscal cliff compromise, are refusing any further increases.
“It was President Obama who proposed — and promoted — the sequester,” said Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) in the GOP response. “So the question is: Why won’t he work with us? And the answer, quite simply, is because he wants higher taxes.”
The White House has also suggested pushing back the sequester by as much as a year to allow more time to broker a deal.
The GOP leadership has shown no willingness to accept the offer. House Republicans, who lost the last fiscal face-off with Obama, believe they are in a stronger position this time and that the public will hold the President responsible for the cuts.