Sequester Day Is Here... And It's Just The Beginning - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

SEQUESTER DAY: What Will Really Happen If Law Makers Don't Reach A Deal? What You ALL Need To Know!

NEW: Obama calls spending cuts dumb, arbitrary
    
WASHINGTON (AP) - President Obama and Republicans are playing the blame game when it comes to automatic spending cuts that are due to kick in later in the day.
    
Obama met with lawmakers at the White House this morning and afterward told reporters, "Let's be clear: None of this is necessary. It's happening because of a choice that Republicans in Congress have made. We shouldn't be making a series of dumb, arbitrary cuts to things."
    
Republicans countered by saying the fault was Obama's, for insisting that increased taxes be part of the resolution.
    
Obama says the impact of the cuts won't be felt immediately, but middle class families will begin to "have their lives disrupted in significant ways." He says as long as the cuts stay in effect, Americans will know that the economy could have been better had they been averted.

Obama says he can't convince GOP to do right thing
    
WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama says he can't do a "Jedi mind meld" with Republican leaders and persuade them to do what he believes is right when it comes to trimming federal spending.
    
Asked if he could refuse to allow Republican leaders of the House and Senate to leave a White House meeting until a budget agreement was reached, Obama said that's not how a constitutional form of government works.
    
Obama took questions from the media at the White House after meeting with congressional leaders

Obama, congressional leaders meet at White House

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama and congressional leaders are meeting at the White House, with billions of dollars in automatic budget cuts ready to start kicking in.
    
The meeting got under way shortly after 10 a.m. EST. Representing Republicans are House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid are the Democratic leaders in the meeting.
    
No breakthrough is expected to come out of the talks. But the meeting is an opportunity for all sides to stake out their fiscal positions with the threat of a government shutdown looming less than four weeks away.

UPDATE: It's Friday, March 1, and that means the federal government has crossed the much-hyped and dreaded deadline for the fiscal reductions known as the "sequester."

The members of Congress who for voted for the Budget Control Act – and the budget cuts contained within – and President Barack Obama who signed it into law on Aug. 2, 2011, may not have believed the day would arrive, but now it has.

But today is only the beginning of the beginning.

For one thing, Obama must sign an order formally starting the "sequester" or spending reductions, which according to a new estimate from the Congressional Budget Office, would amount to $42 billion in the current fiscal year.

And White House aides have indicated that the president is not likely to put pen to paper on that order until after he meets with congressional leaders, a meeting slated for Friday morning.

Once Obama signs the order to start the spending cuts, any furloughs of federal workers could not begin at least for another 30 days due to federal regulations and to collective bargaining agreements which the government has with the unions that represent roughly half of the federal workforce.

So the Border Patrol Agents in Arizona won't suddenly vanish on Friday and the civilians who repair Navy ships won't be ordered to immediately put down their tools.

As with many things the federal government does, there are multiple rules, regulatory hurdles, avenues for appeal and opportunities for litigation.

As Under Secretary of Defense Robert Hale, the Pentagon's Chief Financial Officer, explained last week, "The bottom line is, furloughs would not actually start for DOD employees until late April."

He explained, "There's a whole series of notifications. We started the first one today (Feb. 20), with the notification to Congress, along with a message by the secretary of defense to our civilian employees. That starts a 45-day clock ticking. Until that clock has run out, we cannot proceed with furloughs."

He added, "At some point in mid-March, we will send a notification to each employee who may be furloughed. That starts a 30-day clock, waiting period, before we can take any action. And then later on in April, we will send a decision to employees, and they have a one-week period, once we've made that decision, to appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board."  

The Merit Systems Protection Board is the independent agency which hears and decides complaints when a federal employee claims that he or she has been the victim of an unfair, punitive, or discriminatory personnel action. The board issued 7,585 decisions last year.

In a memo sent Wednesday to Cabinet officers and the heads of federal agencies, Danny Werfel, the controller of the Office of Management and Budget, emphasized that agency heads "must allow employees' exclusive representatives" – their unions – "to have pre-decisional involvement" in planned furloughs or other personnel actions "to the fullest extent practicable" and must bargain with the unions over the impact of furloughs. The head of each department or agency must comply with "any and all collective bargaining requirements."

In his memo, Werfel did not flatly warn federal agency heads to not hire any new personnel, but he did say they should give "increased scrutiny" to hiring any new workers, as well to the money they spend on training programs, conferences, and travel.

Like Hale at the Pentagon, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano emphasized in her briefing for reporters this week that the effects of the spending cuts – while they will be substantial – won't be instantaneous.

"The impacts people are going to see – and they will build over the next several weeks; you won't see them immediately like a shutdown, but it will accrue over the next few weeks," she said. "Lines, procedures, wait times (at U.S. ports of entry and airports) are all going to get longer."

She added, "It won't be like a (government) shutdown, where it's like turning off the light switch. But all I can say for folks is these are the effects that will accrue. Please don't yell at the customs officer or the TSO (transportation security officer) officer because the lines are long.

The lines over the next few weeks are going to start to lengthen in some dramatic ways in parts of the country."

Just as the personnel decisions will take weeks to ripple their way through the federal workforce, so too will decisions on contracts for new ships, drones, and electronic gadgets.

"I don't anticipate that we will cancel many, if any contracts, because we'd incur substantial costs," Hale told reporters last week.

He said that due to the spending cuts, the Pentagon might delay entering into new contracts, "but I wouldn't expect that we will terminate existing contracts."

Seeking to reassure contractors, Hale said, "If you've got a contract with us, we're going to pay you ... . Even under sequestration and furloughs, we will find a time to keep our payments to our employers and the vendors on time."

The slow grinding of the bureaucratic wheels does not mean that furloughs won't hurt, if they occur.

A fact sheet issued by the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal union which representing 650,000 federal and D.C. government workers, spells out some of the possible pain:

•Up to 22 days out of work with no pay, equivalent to a 20 percent pay cut;

Reduced contribution to workers' retirement savings accounts;

•Reduced take-home pay due to the deduction of health insurance benefits at the full salary rate.

But as a recent report from the Congressional Research Service pointed out, the sequestration procedures provide for exemptions for many groups.

Among the categories which the law spares from the spending cuts are:

•Social Security benefits

•The Medicaid health insurance program for low-income people

•Payments to individuals in the form of refundable tax credits, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit for low-wage workers and the tax credits under the 2010 health care law to help people buy health insurance.

•Retirement benefits paid to retired federal workers

•Child Nutrition Programs, including the School Lunch and School Breakfast programs,

•The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly called "food stamps"

•Pell Grants for college students

•Unobligated cash balances, carried over from prior years, for nondefense programs

•Pay for military personnel.

PREVIOUS STORY:

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama is chiding Senate Republicans for blocking a Democratic plan to replace automatic spending cuts that are set to kick in Friday.
    
Senate Republicans objected to $55 billion worth of new taxes in the Democratic plan. It would have replaced the cuts with tax increases on millionaires and spending reductions over 10 years.
    
Obama says Republicans chose to cut services for kids, older people and the military rather than close loopholes for the rich. He says Republicans want the middle class alone to pay for deficit reduction.
    
Republicans floated their own plan to give Obama more flexibility to find $85 billion in spending cuts this year. Democrats and tea party Republicans killed that plan Thursday.
    
Obama and congressional leaders are to meet Friday to discuss potential ways ahead.

PREVIOUS STORY:

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama says looming automatic budget cuts will cause a "tumble downward" for the economy.
    
He acknowledges many people may not immediately notice the full impact of the so-called sequester cuts if they take effect Friday. But he says yanking $85 billion from the economy this year would be a "big hit" on a nation still trying to fully recover from a recession.
    
Speaking to business executives Wednesday, Obama acknowledged it will be difficult for lawmakers to reach a deal to offset the cuts by Friday. He says the logjam is not technical, "it's political.
    
The president wants Republicans to drop their opposition to using some new tax revenue to offset the cuts. And he says members of his own party must accept some changes to government entitlement programs.

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