President Barack Obama painted a gloomy picture on Tuesday of the potential state of government operations, barring automatic budget cuts hit on March 1, but many believe that his emphasis on immediate danger is overstated.
“Nothing. Nothing happens,” said a senior congressional aide to Reuters, discussing what he sees happening soon after march 1.
Obama spoke of FBI agents furloughed, criminals released, flights delayed, teachers and police officers laid off and parents frantic to find a place for children locked out of day care centers.
“Federal prosecutors will have to close cases and let criminals go,” Obama said, at the White House. “Tens of thousands of parents will have to scramble to find child care for their kids.”
The lasting effects may ultimately be significant, but initially there may be gradual ripples as agencies come to terms with looming cuts to all of their programs.
Amy Brundage, a White House spokeswoman, told the New York Times, “Whether these impacts are felt immediately or in the near future, they are already having negative effects on the economy. And there are Americans who are working today who could lose their jobs if these cuts go into effect.”
Officials have made it clear that daycares won’t be padlocked, Federal agents will continue to conduct investigations, and most importantly, criminals will not immediately be “let go,” as Obama suggested on March 1.
The planned cuts would take $85 billion out of the budget this year. But only half of those cuts may actually be felt this year, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated in a recent blog post.
The office wrote that “discretionary outlays will drop by $35 billion and mandatory spending will be reduced by $9 billion this year as a direct result of those procedures; additional reductions in outlays attributable to the cuts in 2013 funding will occur in later years.”
Senior administration officials on Tuesday did not have any concrete examples, but ultimately they would reduce everything from military programs to space exploration between March 1 and the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. Food inspections, air traffic control, law enforcement and education programs would also be among those hit.
“This moves forward on a rolling basis,” White House budget office controller Danny Werfel acknowledged last week after testifying to Congress.
In recent years gridlock in Washington has seemed to need the threat of inflexible deadlines and potentially grave consequences — workers laid off, parks and monuments closing, services disappearing overnight, federal benefit checks delayed — to get anything done.