The sequester begins in four days and Congress is set on a do nothing course.
Not that anyone is happy about it.
The White House over the weekend released a state-by-state list of impacts. (I wish a similar sheet had been released for the impact on tribal governments.) For example: “Alaska would lose about $1.8 million environmental funding to ensure clean water and air quality, as well as prevent pollution from pesticides and hazardous waste,” the White House said. Another program that will lose money there is the Nutrition Assistance for Seniors, some $184,000.
Elderly lunches are big in Indian country, both on reservations, across Alaska and in urban Indian centers. The White House says that sequester will mean 4 million fewer meals this year. “These meals contribute to the overall health and well-being of participating seniors, including those with chronic illnesses that are affected by diet, such as diabetes and heart disease, and frail seniors who are homebound,” the White House said. “The meals can account for 50 percent or more of daily food for the majority of participants.”
All week we will be hearing about the impact of these cuts on real programs and real people. Especially federal employees and contractors whose family budgets will be cut by furloughs and other means.
But what about the politics?
President Barack Obama says these cuts will be required by law and the impacts are real. He has his own plan to avoid them.
Republicans, generally, are continuing to blame President Barack Obama for the sequester, saying it was his idea. But that’s a bit complicated because Republicans then voted for the plan. And, more important, both sides said that sequester would never happen. But the Congress is so broken that there is no hope of a deal at this point. Neither Speaker of the House John Boehner nor Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have the votes to enact a budget or a real relief to the sequester act that nearly everyone calls a stupid way to govern.
The House passed a repeal of Obamacare more than thirty times so a simple repeal of the Budget Control Act seems like it would be easy. But the truth is that many conservatives would not vote for a repeal of the sequester. They see this as the first step toward real austerity. As Boehner put it in his blog: “Government spending is the problem. No one should be talking about raising taxes when the FAA spends $500 million a year on consultants; the EPA has sent more than $100 million in grants to foreign countries; the IRS has a $4 million-a-year TV studio; and more.”
The National Review’s Rich Lowry goes further. He writes: “It’s hard to see how a cut of a little more than $40 billion this year can possibly tank a $16 trillion economy. Or why keeping the deficit the same as it is projected to be this year, at about $845 billion with the sequester cuts already accounted for, will be a shock too severe for the economy to take.”
So here we go. Sequester. Now, the nearest thing to a “plan” is to begin the sequester on Friday, see how much chaos surfaces, and then shoot for a fix at the end of the month when the federal spending bill, the Continuing Resolution, expires. But that said: If there remains as much distance between Republicans and Democrats as there is now, then government will shut down.
Democrats in the House and Senate have their own plan, of course. The plan would stop the sequester and still cut the budget (along with increasing tax revenues). It has everything going for it … except enough votes to pass. (Unless – and this is a long shot – there are enough Republican votes in the House to force what is called a “discharge petition” that goes around leadership and allows a direct vote on the plan.)
So for now, beginning Friday, the budget cuts are set on automatic pilot by a Congress that lacks the votes to do much of anything about it. But that’s only the beginning. Plan on a chaotic month ahead.
Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He lives in Fort Hall, Idaho, and is a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Join the discussion about austerity. A new Facebook page has been set up at: www.facebook.com/IndianCountryAusterity.