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The nine-letter word “sequester” was treated as a four-letter expletive on the Sunday morning talk shows this week.
While Cabinet officers made dire predictions about the mandatory, across-the-board spending cuts slated to kick in at the end of the week, the Obama administration faced accusations that the onerous effects were being hyped for political purposes in a bid to make congressional Republicans agree to a deal that includes increased revenue.
“I think, first of all, the crisis is made up, it’s been created,” said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. “I didn’t support the sequester because that’s a stupid way to cut spending, and I didn’t support increasing the debt limit because there is no such thing as a debt limit in this country because we always raise it.”
Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the threat of sequestration is already having an effect on local school districts, which have to plan their budgets for the coming school year next fall.
“There are literally teachers right now getting pink slips,” he said.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who has become an administration point man on the harmful effects of sequestration, denied suggestions that the consequences are being exaggerated.
“This sequester is very serious business and it requires us to make all the reductions we have to make,” LaHood said. “We hope that this week that Republicans and Democrats will step forward. The president has put forward a plan to find the $84 billion.”
LaHood said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that his agency is required to cut about $1 billion.
“The largest number of employees at DOT is at FAA, of which the largest number are FAA controllers,” he said. “We’re going to try and cut as much as we possibly can out of contracts and other things that we do. But in the end, there has to be some kind of furlough of air traffic control — air traffic controllers, and that then will also begin to curtail or eliminate the opportunity for them to guide planes in and out of airports.”
LaHood’s case was a reprise of the argument he made Friday at the White House. The law that set up sequestration was structured in a way that gives departments and agencies limited discretion in implementing the required spending cuts. The federal spending curbs are due to begin to take effect March 1, although implementation of the cuts will be phased in over the rest of the fiscal year in many parts of the government.
“The sequester doesn’t allow us to move money around,” LaHood explained on NBC’s Meet the Press.