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What Sequester? Members See Little Political Fallout So Far

At the White House and in the Capitol, sequestration has nearly faded from view as an issue, with no compromise in sight to roll back automatic spending cuts that were supposed to bring a doomsday scenario but so far have been met by shrugs across the country.

“We would obviously welcome a change of heart by Republicans, but there’s no indication from Republicans that a change of heart is forthcoming,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday as he acknowledged the obvious — that the sequester is here for the foreseeable future.

The White House — burned by a few overinflated claims of impacts and falling approval ratings — has long since given up its nationwide stop-the-sequester tour and daily appearances in the press room from Cabinet secretaries warning of dire consequences. But there is still a wisp of a hope in the West Wing that Republicans at some point will agree to a replacement that includes higher taxes. That hope rests not on national press coverage and presidential speeches but on a slowly growing stack of local news clips detailing impacts, such as an Associated Press story in Indianapolis on a lottery to determine which kids would be kicked out of the early childhood education program Head Start.

Carney said the White House still hopes the sequester will be eliminated in a broader budget deal, but that’s likely months away. Asked about the lack of urgency in eliminating it, he pointed to the White House’s past warnings on the real-world impacts and said they are starting to happen — noting the AP story.

There are certainly a host of impacts that will start to bite next month — including furloughs at the Defense Department and shuttered air traffic control towers at smaller airports across the country.

But while the impacts are starting to appear in local media across the country, particularly near military bases, rank-and-file Republicans generally say they aren’t feeling much pressure yet, and they expect the sequester will simply stay in place.

“I think, generally speaking, people haven’t noticed,” said Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa, noting that the flap about canceled White House tours is one exception.

“I’m not hearing anything at home, really,” said Rep. John Campbell. The California Republican said he’s been asked about the sequester more by the press than constituents. He said he heard from one contractor who said, “You know, we may lose a contract over this, but we’ll survive.”

Campbell said Republicans going home for the Easter break are going to be focused instead on touting the GOP plan to balance the budget.

“Assuming the CR [Continuing Resolution] gets passed by the Senate and passed here, then the sequester is the law of the land. ... People are adjusting and ... now we need to go on and talk about the different budgets.”

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said the sequester isn’t going anywhere.

“My belief is we live with the sequester between now and Sept. 30,” he said. After that, lawmakers will have to decide whether to more intelligently design the cuts in future years. “If we do that then there is no sequester.”

Blunt said he will tell constituents that he’s tried to mitigate its effects.

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