Impact of automatic spending cuts could be far-reaching
Automatic spending cuts that took effect on Friday are expected to touch a vast range of government services. Some examples:
Furlough notices will begin going out later this month to about 800,000 Defense Department civilians, who will lose a day's pay each week for more than five months. The Army will let go more than 3,000 temporary and contract employees and beginning in April, it will cancel maintenance at depots, which will force 5,000 more layoffs. The Air Force Thunderbirds and the Navy's Blue Angels will cancel air show appearances.
There could be an estimated 2,100 fewer food safety inspections and increased risks to consumers because of the cuts and the fact that lack of a new 2013 budget means the Food and Drug Administration is held at last year's spending level.
Hospitals, doctors and other Medicare providers will see a 2 percent cut in government reimbursements because once the cutback takes effect, Medicare will reimburse them at 98 cents on the dollar. But they aren't complaining because the pain could be a lot worse if President Obama and congressional Republicans did reach a sweeping agreement to reduce federal deficits. Obama had put on the table $400 billion in health care cuts, mainly from Medicare. And Republicans wanted more.
The nation's busiest airports could be forced to close some of their runways, causing widespread flight delays and cancellations. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood predicts flights to cities such as New York, Chicago and San Francisco could have delays of up to 90 minutes during peak hours because fewer controllers will be on duty.
Visiting hours at all 398 national parks are likely to be cut and sensitive areas would be blocked off to the public. Thousands of seasonal workers looking for jobs would not be hired, according to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. He said visitors would encounter locked restrooms, fewer rangers and trash cans emptied less frequently.
More than half of the nation's 2.1 million government workers may be required to take furloughs if agencies are forced to trim budgets. At the Pentagon alone that could mean 800,000 civilian workers would be off for 22 days each, spread across more than five months — and lose 20 percent of their pay over that period. Other federal agencies are likely to furlough several hundred thousand more workers.
Some 70,000 students enrolled in pre-kindergarten Head Start would be cut from the program and 14,000 teachers would lose their jobs. For students with special needs, the cuts would eliminate some 7,200 teachers and aides. The Education Department is also warning that the cuts will impact up to 29 million student loan borrowers and that some lenders may have to lay off staff or even close. Some of the 15 million college students who receive grants or work-study assignments at some 6,000 colleges would also see changes.
Congressional trips overseas likely will take a hit. House Speaker John Boehner told Republican members in a closed-door meeting that he's suspending the use of military aircraft for official trips by House members. Lawmakers typically travel on military planes for fact-finding trips to Afghanistan or Pakistan, or other congressional excursions to foreign locales.
Cleanup of radioactive waste at nuclear sites across the country would be delayed. The Energy Department says the cuts would postpone work at the department's highest-risk sites, including the Hanford Nuclear Reservation near Richland, Wash., where six tanks are leaking radioactive waste left over from decades of plutonium production for nuclear weapons. Other high-risk sites facing work delays are the Oak Ridge Reservation in Tennessee, Savannah River Site in South Carolina and the Idaho National Laboratory.
Any furloughs at the Internal Revenue Service will be delayed until summer, after the tax filing season ends, so the agency says it shouldn't delay tax refunds. But other IRS services will be affected. Millions of taxpayers may not be able get responses from IRS call centers and taxpayer assistance centers. The cuts would delay IRS responses to taxpayer letters and force the agency to complete fewer tax return reviews, reducing its ability to detect and prevent fraud. The IRS says this could result in billions of dollars in lost revenue to the government, complicating deficit reduction efforts.
More than 3.8 million people jobless for six months or longer could see their unemployment benefits reduced by as much as 9.4 percent. Thousands of veterans would not receive job counseling. Fewer Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspectors could mean 1,200 fewer inspections of dangerous work sites.