WASHINGTON, February 25 (By Maria Young for RIA Novosti) - America’s latest budget crisis – called sequestration – is set to go into effect Friday, potentially forcing hundreds of thousands of federal, state and local government layoffs in the coming months as part of a mandatory $85 billion in federal budget cuts on everything from defense spending, transportation, meat inspections, housing subsidies and daycare centers.
But with the US Congress and President Barack Obama having recently negotiated their way out of the frightening fiscal cliff and the dreaded debt ceiling, there is growing skepticism among Americans about just how much of an effect the looming budget cuts will really have – despite some alarming predictions from government leaders.
“I do think these manufactured crises eventually stop affecting Americans’ psyche, and people really dull to bad events, especially as they keep happening,” said John Hudak, a Governance Studies Fellow at the Brookings Institute, a nonprofit public policy research organization, in an interview with RIA Novosti.
In this case – unlike some of the other recent monetary crises – Hudak said many people likely will feel the effects of sequestration, cuts that he said will be painful enough to eventually force additional budget negotiations between Republican lawmakers and Obama.
“Some of the major impacts that a large number of individuals will likely see will come from layoffs in state and local governments, first responders, teachers, construction workers and vaccine programs,” Hudak said.
In a poll released last week by the Pew Research Center, 27 percent of those surveyed said they had heard “a lot” about the sequestration – and 47 percent of those people said the automatic cuts should go into effect.
The cuts were established by US lawmakers in 2011 as a sort of budgetary axe set to fall on the entire federal government should Congress fail to implement more than $1 trillion in fiscal cuts.
But with no deal in sight as the March 1 deadline approaches, $85 billion is scheduled to be cut from the federal budget over the next seven months, when a new round of cuts will begin.
US Education Secretary Arne Duncan told CBS News as many as 40,000 educators could lose their jobs.
“We don’t have any ability with dumb cuts like this to figure out what the right thing to do is,” Duncan said. “It just means a lot more children will not get the kinds of opportunities and services they need.”
US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the cuts would force the closing of hundreds of air traffic control towers, 90 minute flight delays and thousands of furloughs for Federal Aviation Administration workers.
“They’ll begin to see the activity and the layoffs and the delays probably beginning around April 1. This is a big deal,” LaHood said Friday at a White House press briefing.
The nation’s governors sounded an alarm bell over the weekend at the National Governors Association (NGA) winter meeting in Washington.
“We’re talking about real lives. We’re talking about families. We’re talking about their pocket books,” said Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, vice-chair of the NGA, according to The Washington Post.
If it all sounds like a financial disaster waiting to happen, Congress designed it that way back in 2011 as part of an agreement to rein in federal spending and lawmakers and Obama agreed to it.
The idea was to make the threat of automatic cuts so alarming, so devastating, that both parties would be forced to find a more reasonable compromise.
“They set it up so the punishment was so bad it would force everybody to the table. The problem is, that approach requires negotiation and negotiation is a four letter word in Washington,” said Hudak.
After so many near-crises, he added, it now appears Congress will have to see the effects first before it is motivated to negotiate.
“I think it will be politically devastating to get people to the table, when job losses start piling up, when you start seeing labor groups like teachers and other government employees out of work, when towns that rely on federal support start suffering and military bases are really struggling, then I think the reality will force people to the negotiating table,” said Hudak.