Will the Sequester Be Good, Bad or Really Bad?

Messages from politicians about the sequester have been sprinkled along a broad continuum from disastrous to barely consequential to a modest dose of necessary austerity. Here are some examples.

Really Bad

Those who take the doomsday view of the sequester, a set of automatic cuts ($1.2 trillion over 10 years) to the growth in government spending that began going into effect on Friday, include mostly Democrats.

In a Feb. 19 speech, President Barack Obama said the "brutal spending cuts" would "jeopardize our military readiness," "eviscerate" education and research investments, cause airport delays, and reduce that nation's ability to respond to disasters. Additionally, criminals would be released from prisons, "thousands" of teachers would lose their jobs, "tens of thousands" of parents would lose access to childcare, and "hundreds of thousands" would lose access to medical care.

There are also some Republicans in the "really bad" camp as well. They are mostly worried that the cuts to military spending will make America less safe. Senators Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), and John McCain (Ariz.) are among the leading voices raising this concern.

"I am really concerned about the impact on our national security," Ayotte said Sunday on ABC's "This Week." "We've already heard [about] cuts on training for our active duty troops, also flight hours for the combat fighter pilots. Yes, there is some real concern about undermining our national security."


Others take the view that the cuts will have a negative impact, but their predictions are less gloomy.

Obama is in this group as well. As the inevitability of the sequester became more apparent last week, the tone of his predictions moderated.

"Now, what's important to understand is that not everyone will feel the pain of these cuts right away," Obama said Friday, later adding, "it's not going to be the apocalypse, as some people have said."

He also noted that economists predict that the sequester will cause about a one-half of one percent reduction in the rate of economic growth and 750,000 jobs will be lost.

Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer believes the sequester will be harmful, but for a different reason. Krauthammer worries that Obama will make sure the cuts will be both visible and painful to justify higher rates of government spending.

"Hence the president's message," Krauthammer wrote Thursday. "If the 'sequestration' ... goes into effect, the skies will fall. Plane travel jeopardized, carrier groups beached, teachers furloughed. And a shortage of junk-touching TSA agents.

"The Obama administration has every incentive to make the sky fall, lest we suffer that terrible calamity – cuts the nation survives. Are they threatening to pare back consultants, conferences, travel and other nonessential fluff? Hardly. It shall be air-traffic control. Meat inspection. Weather forecasting."


Obama has also touted the benefits of the sequester. At one point he even threatened to veto any bill that simply did away with the sequester. During his re-election campaign, his plan claimed to reduce projected deficits by more than $4 trillion over 10 years. The sequester was counted among those reductions in the growth of government spending.

Former Democratic National Committee Chair Howard Dean claimed that the sequester will be more beneficial than not because of its reductions in the growth of military spending.

"The fact of the matter is, you are not going to get another chance to cut the defense budget in the way that it needs to be cut," Dean said last month.

Most of those praising the sequester, though, have been conservatives and Republicans.

"This will be the first significant tea party victory in that we got what we set out to do in changing Washington," Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) said Tuesday.

Conservative columnist George Will argues that those in the "really bad" camp are guilty of manufacturing hysteria over very small spending reductions. He noted that this year's cuts amount to only 2.3 percent of current spending, a sum only $25 billion more than spent for Hurricane Sandy relief and less than half as much spent to bail out AIG, and "domestic agencies whose budgets have increased 17 percent under President Obama must endure a 5 percent cut!"

"The sequester has forced liberals to clarify their conviction that whatever the government's size is at any moment, it is the bare minimum necessary to forestall intolerable suffering," Will wrote.

With all the competing messages about what the sequester will do, perhaps the best assessment of the sequester's effects came from Speaker of the House John Boehner on Sunday: "I don't know whether it's going to hurt the economy or not," he said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "I don't think anyone quite understands how the sequester is really going to work."

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