February 27, 2021

Many Steps to Be Taken When ‘Sequester’ Is Law

At that moment, somewhere in the bowels of the Treasury Department, officials will take offline the computers that process payments for school construction and clean energy bonds to reprogram them for reduced rates. Payments will be delayed while they are made manually for the next six weeks.

Hours later, employees at the Environmental Protection Agency will open e-mails notifying them of the bad news: a forced furlough of up to 13 days in the weeks ahead.

And over at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, officials will spend the weekend mailing out letters to governors in all 50 states showing how much their grants will be reduced in the coming days and weeks.

Created by desperate politicians in Washington to force themselves to find a smarter way to cut government, the “sequester” will instead become the law of the land as a result of a failure of Mr. Obama and congressional Republicans to compromise.

But the law does not create an immediate spending crisis or government shutdown like the ones that have loomed over so many of the previous budget fights in Washington. On Friday, the immediate impact on most Americans will be exactly nothing.

Federally funded day care programs will continue to operate. National parks will stay open. Government employees will continue to report to work. Border patrol agents will do their best to prevent illegal crossings. Experts do not expect the stock market to flinch.

It will be, Mr. Obama said Wednesday night, more of a “tumble downward” than a quick descent into budgetary nightmare. “It’s conceivable that in the first week, the first two weeks, the first three weeks, the first month, a lot of people may not notice the full impact of the sequester,” Mr. Obama told a group of business officials.

That might not be entirely true, as Mr. Obama noted, for some pockets of American society: companies who do business directly with the Defense Department, families who live near military installations and parents who rely on federally funded child care will be affected. Federal workers may soon face effective cuts of 10 percent or more in their salaries this year.

But even there, officials conceded this week, the specific impacts are more fuzzy than the aggregate ones. Ask officials about which contracts will be cut or which services will be trimmed back, and there are long pauses and blank looks.

“The impacts of sequester are real,” Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, said again and again to reporters on Thursday. “These are about real issues. These are about the concrete effects of policies on people’s lives.”

But who? Which agencies? What contracts?

Under the barrage of questions, Mr. Carney managed to come up with reduced funding for school children in Ohio.

But which children? Those who live in Columbus or Cincinnati? Officials at the White House, the Office of Management and Budget and the Education Department cannot answer with that kind of specificity.

White House officials become indignant with suggestions that Mr. Obama and his top lieutenants might have hyped the devastation wrought by the automatic cuts. At his briefing, Mr. Carney insisted that the administration had been transparent.

“You know, we’ve been very clear,” he said. “What the president said last night is that — you know, and I think what other people have said — is that this will be a rolling impact, an effect that will build and build and build.”

Strategists in the West Wing are betting that the growing impact of the budget cuts — including what they expect will be a hit to the nation’s already slow economic growth rate — will eventually bring Republicans to the table for a deal.

It may take some time. Even the most direct impact on federal workers — the forced furloughs — will not happen in most cases for 30 or 60 days, after government managers have concluded negotiations with the unions that represent workers.

A letter sent to employees at the Justice Department, for example, is filled with legalese. “This memorandum notifies you that the Department of Justice (DOJ) proposes to furlough you no earlier than 30 days from receipt of this notice,” it said.

More letters like that are coming once Mr. Obama signs the letter making sequestration official.

And when, exactly, will that happen?

“It has to be done by 11:59 p.m. tomorrow,” Mr. Carney told reporters, joking that it would be at “11:59 and 59 seconds, because he’s ever hopeful.”

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/01/us/politics/many-steps-to-be-taken-when-sequester-is-law.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

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