The perils and victims of the round of the mandatory federal spending cuts known as sequestration led the New York Times' weekend coverage, with the 2.4% cut in annual federal spending that went into effect starting Friday labeled "austerity" and ushered in with headlines warning that "Poor May Be Hit Particularly Hard." Also: those who still approve of Congress tend to be "Obama haters," according to a news story.
Predictably, it was pro-Obama White House reporter Jackie Calmes' lead story in the Sunday edition that forecast the "new round of austerity" and predicted less economic growth as a result: "Cuts To Achieve Goal For Deficit, But Toll Is High – $4 Trillion In 10 Years – No 'Grand Bargain,' and a Drag on Jobs and Economic Growth ."
The latest budget impasse ushered in a new round of austerity on Saturday, with the nation facing reduced federal services, canceled contracts, job furloughs and layoffs.
But lost in the talk of Washington’s dysfunction is this fact: on paper at least, President Obama and Congress have reduced projected deficits by nearly $4 trillion over a decade -- the widely embraced goal for stabilizing the national debt.
The spending cuts that began to take effect Friday, known as sequestration and totaling about $1 trillion through 2023, come on top of $1.5 trillion in reductions that Mr. Obama and Congress committed to in 2011, mainly from the accord that averted the nation’s first debt default.
The progress on deficit reduction over the past two years will also probably hamper job creation and the economic recovery. Private and government forecasters project that sequestration alone will cost about 700,000 jobs this year and will shave at least a half percentage point from economic growth. The Congressional Budget Office now forecasts a falling deficit but stubbornly high unemployment in coming years.
Calmes also took the pro-Democrat view that the package wasn't tilted enough toward tax hikes.
For Democrats, at least, the mix of spending cuts and tax increases in the package is another reason for disappointment. The deficit deals to date would yield $4 in spending cuts for every dollar of new revenue. Mr. Obama, as well as several bipartisan groups, including the commission led by Erskine B. Bowles and Alan K. Simpson, call for one dollar of tax increases for every $2 to $3 in spending cuts.
Also on Sunday's front page, Trip Gabriel checked the view of the sequestration from Northern Virginia, "Virginia's Feast On U.S. Funds Nears an End – Suburbs of Washington Will Be Hit Hard ."
To listen to the human side of sequestration, wait in line here for the 595 bus to Reston, Va., a journey across a suburbia grown fat and happy on a federal spending boom in the past decade, primarily military.
While the rest of the country experienced a corrosive recession, unemployment in Arlington County, home of the Pentagon, never rose above 5 percent. Nearby Fairfax County, with a cyberintelligence industry that took off after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, gorged on government contracts to private companies.
At least Gabriel mentioned the "relatively small" cut from the federal budget.
Because the automatic cuts, known as sequestration, fall unevenly across the country, many Americans are greeting them with a shrug. Their nonchalance is heightened because the 2.4 percent lopped from a federal budget of $3.55 trillion is relatively small and will not happen all at once. Moreover, Congressional Republicans have accused the White House of exaggerating the impact for political gain.
On Monday, economics reporter Annie Lowrey found her sequestration victims on the impoverished side of the financial divide in "As Automatic Budget Cuts Go Into Effect, Poor May Be Hit Particularly Hard ." Of course.
The $85 billion in automatic cuts working their way through the federal budget spare many programs that aid the poorest and most vulnerable Americans, including the Children’s Health Insurance Program and food stamps.
But the sequestration cuts, as they are called, still contain billions of dollars in mandatory budget reductions in programs that help low-income Americans, including one that gives vouchers for housing to the poor and disabled and another that provides fortified baby formula to the children of poor women.
Unless a deal is reached to change the course of the cuts, housing programs would be hit particularly hard, with about 125,000 individuals and families put at risk of becoming homeless, the Department of Housing and Urban Development estimated. An additional 100,000 formerly homeless people might be removed from emergency shelters or other housing arrangements because of the cuts, the agency said.
Other programs that assist low-income families face similarly significant cuts, including one that delivers hot meals to the elderly and another that helps pregnant women. Policy experts are particularly concerned about cuts to the supplemental nutrition program for women, infants and children known as WIC, which provides food and baby formula for at-risk families.
The $85 billion in cuts is just a small part of the $3.6 trillion annual budget, but policy experts say that even those cuts that are being applied to programs that do not specifically focus on low-income people and communities will disproportionately affect them.
Finally, Lowrey on Saturday puzzled over how anyone could approve of Congress these days after the "stupid" sequestration, and talked to some of the 12 percent of people that approve of how Congress is doing, "Despite the Dysfunction, Congress Still Has Fans ." Lowrey, who is married to liberal Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein, chipped in some editorial comment on the “Obama haters" who approve of Congress.
On Friday, $85 billion in spending cuts intended to be so painful and stupid that they would never come into effect started to come into effect.
There is plenty of blame to go around, but the so-called sequestration looks set to only add to the unpopularity of what has become one of America’s most loathed political institutions: Congress.
In a recent New York Times/CBS News poll, Americans gave the House and Senate just a 12 percent approval rating, up barely a smidgen from its all-time low. Dozens of other polls conducted in the past year or two have shown Congress to be deeply despised. But even Congress has its supporters, and not just paid staff members or blood relatives, as Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, likes to joke. After all, one in eight Americans still gives the institution a thumbs-up.
But the small group of people who really did approve of Congress generally seemed to fall into two broad camps, which might be termed the “natural optimists” and the “Obama haters.”
Take the second group first. Several respondents said they believed that Congress -- which is divided between a Republican-controlled House and a Senate where Democrats are in the majority but are generally unable to pass legislation because they lack 60 votes to overcome an almost automatic filibuster by the minority party -- was trying its hardest in difficult circumstances, but was repeatedly frustrated by a hubristic White House with a my-way-or-the-highway attitude.
-- Clay Waters is Editor of the MRC's TimesWatch site.