published Monday, February 25th, 2013

Greater Chattanooga area sequester worries emerge


by Chris Carroll
People visit the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.
People visit the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

TOTAL SEQUESTER CUTS THIS YEAR

Tennessee: $73.4 million

Georgia: $485.7 million

Alabama: $302.5 million

Source: The White House

WHAT DOES THE MONEY FUND?

(In Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia)

24,700 HIV tests

180 primary and secondary schools

460 teachers, aides and staff who help children with disabilities

71,000 civilian Department of Defense employees

6,980 low-income students who rely on work-study jobs or other aid to finance college

Source: The White House

Sequester impact on Tennessee
Sequester impact on Tennessee
Sequester impact on Georgia
Sequester impact on Georgia
Sequester impact on Alabama
Sequester impact on Alabama
Poll
Do you worry about the impact of the pending sequester?

WASHINGTON — Two hundred Tennessee teachers at risk of getting fired. Four thousand Georgia children unable to get vaccines for measles and mumps. Twenty-seven thousand federal employees in Alabama facing furloughs.

For the first time, the White House this weekend released state-by-state data behind the Beltway buzzword "sequestration," warning of painful spending cuts and real-life consequences ahead.

In a Sunday afternoon conference call with reporters, White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer said most people haven't digested the reality behind budget-slashing rhetoric. He called the sequester "disruptive to their lives and communities."

Barring congressional action before Friday, Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama this year face a combined $861 million in agency reductions, grant modifications and unrecoverable revenue as a result of indiscriminate cuts and furloughs, White House figures show.

Despite a shared role in creating the sequester, Democrats and Republicans equally dread its political impact; warnings of private-sector layoffs and a nationwide economic slide are the talk of Washington.

Local worries are beginning to emerge. At the National Governors Association winter meeting here this weekend, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said he fears the cuts indefinitely could delay toxic-waste cleanup at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

"Every line item gets cut, regardless of what it is," he told The Washington Post on Saturday. "This is not a smart way to do government."

Passed as part of the Budget Control Act of 2011, the automatic cuts were designed as an incentive for Congress to find palatable ways to slash $1.5 trillion over the next decade. That didn't happen. The sequester was scheduled to trigger Jan. 1, but Congress postponed it until Friday.

Another delay seems unlikely as both parties assign blame with the countdown clock ticking.

By releasing 50 state profiles, the White House implied the sequester harms everyone everywhere, potentially weakening nutrition aid for seniors, law enforcement grants and early education programs such as Head Start.

Other possible casualties include public health initiatives, work-study jobs for college students and environmental projects for clean air and water.

Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama will lose $53 million in education funding for primary and secondary schools, White House figures show. Additionally, civilians who work for the Department of Defense stand to lose $402 million in unpaid furloughs.

Another human cost? Nearly 9,000 fewer children in the tri-state area will be immunized against whooping cough, influenza, hepatitis B and other disorders, the White House said.

Despite the implications, there appears to be no action toward a deal.

Citizens might assume their officials were discussing potential solutions last week, but a Washington visitor would have encountered a quiet Capitol as Congress enjoyed a five-day recess. Many members traveled to their home states and griped publicly about a lack of debate. Meanwhile, President Barack Obama enjoyed a long Presidents Day golf holiday in Florida.

Sunday's data dump and media conference call were the latest in a comprehensive White House public relations effort to sway Republicans to postpone the cuts.

"There are hundreds of thousands of Americans who are working today who will lose their jobs as a consequence of this Republican decision," Pfeiffer said, adding the president would rather close tax loopholes on corporations and the nation's wealthiest than rely solely on spending cuts.

After allowing the George W. Bush tax cuts to expire in January, Republicans loathe Obama's proposed remedy of tax increases and spending cuts. GOP lawmakers call for solving the problem with spending cuts alone.

Last week in Chattanooga, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., called the automatic cuts "ham-handed" but said America would be "better off as a nation if we let the sequester kick in than we would to continue to sweep this problem under the rug."

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