Sequestration and What it Means to the People of Pennsylvania

Sequestration is a series of automatic, across-the-board cuts to government agencies, totaling $1.2 trillion over 10 years. The cuts are to be split 50-50 between defense and domestic discretionary spending.

It started in 2011 with the standoff over the U.S. debt ceiling. Congress and the administration agreed to more than $2 trillion in spending cuts. About $1 trillion of that was in the debt-ceiling bill, and the rest were imposed through sequestration — forced cuts that could only be changed by coming up with an equal amount of spending reductions elsewhere.

While cutting spending reduces the deficit, so does raising taxes. Guess what? The administration wants to include tax increases in any deal. Didn’t we already do that at the end of the year?

The March 1 effective date for sequestration has come and gone. People you see every day seem none the worse for it. The effects will be delayed assuming no action by Congress, but there will be some consequences.

First, let’s look at what the automatic spending cuts affect. There is discretionary spending and non-discretionary spending. Discretionary spending is divided into military and non-military portions. Non-discretionary spending includes medicaid, medicare, social security and debt service. The cuts are almost entirely to be made in discretionary spending.

The cuts are most severe in 2013 and 2014. Then spending is allowed to increase at 2.2 percent per year (the projected inflation rate) after that.

The White House has published papers showing how the cuts affect each state. They are, of course, politically motivated and contain such judgmental words as “threaten,” “vital,” and “forcing.” The groups affected are wide ranging but the “threats” will affect, among others, “children, seniors, people with mental illness and our men and women in uniform.”

After the rhetoric, the paper gets down to more specific cuts for Pennsylvania.

  • $26.4 million for primary and secondary education
  • $21.4 million for special education
  • 2,290 fewer work-study jobs will be available
  • 2,300 fewer children will be afforded Heat Start and Early Head Start services
  • $5,705,000 less in EPA enforcement
  • $1,448,000 less in fish and wildlife protection
  • 26,000 civilian Defense Department employees would be furloughed one day a week. This amounts to a 20% loss in pay but will not start until 22 weeks before the fiscal year ends October 1. Multiply 20% by 22 and divide by 52 and you get 8.5%, the annualized reduction in pay, corresponding to the 8.5% reduction in hours worked.
  • $509,000 lest in Justice Assistance Grants
  • $866,000 less in job search assistance
  • $361,000 less for vaccines
  • $1,213,000 less in funds for planning for health threats such as a new widespread virus
  • $2,930,000 less in treating substance abuse
  • $639,000 less for HIV tests
  • $271,000 less for the Stop Violence Against Women Program
  • $849,000 less for meals for seniors

The White House paper also lists national effects that will surely affect Pennsylvanians. Among the most notable are:

$600,000,000 less for the FAA. Another furlough similar to the Defense Department furlough would take place here. The concerning part here is the reduction in air traffic controllers. Rather than overload controllers, the number of flights will probably be reduced.

While no dollar amount for TSA is mentioned, there would be a hiring freeze and furloughs for all. This may be the one thing that affects the wealthy the most and puts the most pressure on Congress to find non-automatic ways to reduce spending.

If longer waits at airport security doesn’t get you to write your congressman, try fewer food inspectors. The FDA could conduct 2,100 fewer inspections, and furloughs for food inspectors will happen.