The sequester is upon us. The nation’s lawmakers were unable to find common ground in averting $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts, so the ax has fallen on the federal budget. Now what?
Well, so far, the average American has likely felt nothing. But federal employees—well, that’s a different story.
The U.S, Navy said over the weekend that they would begin to send out furlough notices to civilian employees while delaying several maintenance contracts. The Navy has announced plans to ground four navy air wings and have cancelled eight ship deployments. The Department of Justice has sent out furlough notices to about 115,000 employees, while the Army has alerted its unions that civilians units may have to schedule up to 176 hours of furlough.
Ordinary Americans are likely to feel the pinch soon enough, too. In the lead up to the sequester, the Obama Administration highlighted what would happen to each of the 50 states if Congress failed to intervene. That includes big cuts to education, childcare, national defense, public health, job-search help and more.
Lawmakers are still trying to reach a compromise to avoid the most devastating parts of the sequester. Gene Sperling, the director of President Obama’s National Economic Council, told NBC’s “Meet The Press” that the commander-in-chief spoke to several senators on the phone to try and reach a deal on Saturday. During his weekly address, Obama called for a “caucus of common sense” to stop the sequester as soon as possible.
Sperling said no one has suggested the sequester is “going to have all its impact on the first few days. It’s a slow grind. But make no mistake about it, you can’t cut $42 billion from Defense in seven months and not hurt jobs, veterans—veterans are often ones who work in civilian military jobs. You’re going to hurt a lot of people.”
Some, including Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell are calling the cuts “modest”, while House Speaker John Boehner has said he doesn’t think the cuts will necessarily hurt the economy.
For its part, the GOP is sticking to its guns, saying they are against any deal that includes any new taxes to offset the spending cuts. However, Sens. Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte said they are open to the possibility of a bargain that includes changes to entitlements and higher tax revenues.
Another important deadline is just around the corner: March 27. That’s when Congress must agree on a bill to fund the government through the rest of the fiscal year. Otherwise—brace yourself—there’s the possibility of a government shutdown. The House is expected to vote on such a spending measure on Thursday, which would fund the government to the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say they’re hopeful that they’ll strike a deal.
And the all-important question: Who’s to blame? Depends who you ask! Obama has placed blame on the GOP, arguing they are protecting tax loopholes in exchange for hurting middle class families. “It’s happening because Republicans in Congress chose this outcome,” he said on Friday. The GOP is insisting that it’s Obama’s fault, arguing it’s time to focus on spending. Many are also calling it “Obama’s sequester,” although the majority of GOPers voted in favor of it in 2011.
For more, tune into Hardball tonight at 5 and 7 p.m. ET. We’ll have MSNBC political analyst Howard Fineman of the Huffington Post and Jared Berstein, Vice President Joe Biden’s former economic advisor on to weigh in on how the GOP seems to be divided on gay marriage and immigration but united on one issue: taxes and spending.