President Obama has been warning that deep cuts triggered by sequestration could be devastating for the military and other government programs. But many Republicans, determined to see a reduction in federal spending, show no sign of wanting to cut a deal with the president to avoid the sequester.
Since the defense sector would see a large cut in its funding, several lawmakers and former officials have argued that it would weaken the standing of the United States on the world stage, empowering countries who threaten U.S. national security. Dov Zakheim, who served in several Defense Department posts in Republican administrations since the Reagan era, said the reductions could hinder the modernization of U.S. forces, among other impacts.
"What kind of message does that send to the Iranians or the Chinese or our allies?" Zakheim said. "There's a real issue of American credibility. Most people around the world have no idea what the sequester is about. They can't understand it."
Here are some of the programs that would be pared as part of the sequester, according to a report by the White House Office of Management and Budget and letters from administration officials:
Air Travel: An estimated $619 million would be cut from the operations and facilities and equipment accounts of the Federal Aviation Administration, according to a report by House Appropriations Committee Democrats. This could mean major flight delays and an economic hit on the millions of people who depend on air travel every day.
- $483 million cut from the FAA operations budget, forcing all FAA employees to be furloughed for 11 days. On any given day, that could mean that 10 percent of the FAA's 40,000 employees could be on furlough, resulting in longer delays, reduced air-traffic control, and losses in tourism. There will also be a hiring freeze.
- $136 million cut from the FAA's facilities and equipment account, which helps maintain and modernize the air-traffic control infrastructure.
- Transportation Security Administration screeners would receive a seven-day furlough.
National Parks: In order to cut 5 percent of its budget, the National Park Service would have to slash $110 million, according to Coalition of National Park Service Retirees. The NPS has already begun to plan for sequestration by cutting park hours and visitor services in some of the nation's leading national parks — from Yosemite to the Great Smokey Mountains. The group estimates that over a million visitors to the nation's 12 leading national parks would experience the effects of the budget cuts, as several of the parks would have to close visitor centers, restrict campsites, limit trail access, and delay spring road openings.
The Pentagon: The Joint Chiefs of Staff, along with Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey, testified before the House Armed Services Committee last week, outlining the major cuts to the Pentagon. Here are some of the cuts planned or already underway:
- Most of the 800,000 civilian employees of the Defense Department would get unpaid leave, called a furlough, for up to 22 days, saving the Pentagon between $4 billion and $5 billion through the rest of the fiscal year.
- The Navy has delayed the deployment of an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf, leaving only one in the region. The Navy also has delayed the construction of one carrier and the overhaul of another.
- Seventy percent of ship maintenance in private shipyards and all aircraft maintenance for the latter of half of this fiscal year would be canceled, which amounts to 25 ships and 327 aircraft.
- All ship and aircraft deployments to Africa have been canceled, along with the cancellation of five of six ship deployments to South America.
- Flight hours would be reduced across the board.
- To meet its $17 billion shortfall, the Army would have to curtail training for 80 percent of its ground forces, implement a hiring freeze, and lay off 3,100 temporary and term employees.
- Army base maintenance funds would be cut by 70 percent, while the Air Force would see a 30 percent cut in weapons-maintenance funds.
- In the next fiscal year, 100,000 fewer soldiers would serve in the Army, the Army National Guard, and the Army Reserve.
- More than 50 percent of Marine tactical units would be below minimum readiness levels.
- TRICARE, which provides health care for active and retired military personnel and their dependents, would get cut by $3 billion for the remainder of the fiscal year.
- The Coast Guard would reduce its air and surface operations by 25 percent.
Health Services: In a letter to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius outlined the significant impact to the nation's health services if sequestration goes into effect:
- $350 million cut from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- 109,000 fewer people in need of critical treatment might not get admitted to inpatient facilities.
- 91,000 fewer people would receive substance-abuse treatment.
- 30,000 children would go without child-care services.
- 373,000 seriously ill adults and emotionally disturbed children would not receive treatment.
- 4 million fewer meals would get delivered to seniors' homes.
- 424,000 fewer HIV tests would be administered.
- 540,000 fewer doses of vaccines would be available for the flu, hepatitis, and measles, among other diseases.
- $1.6 billion cut for medical research at the National Institutes of Health.
- $120 million cut in federal support for health centers, which could lead to 900,000 fewer patients served.
- $168 million cut in embassy security.
Humanitarian Aid: In his first major speech as secretary of State, John Kerry said the budget battles in Washington could hurt the U.S. effort to provide economic and political aid across the world. He underscored those concerns in a letter to Mikulski last week, saying the State Department would have to cut $2.6 billion for this fiscal year. In addition to potentially delaying visa requests and hindering peacekeeping efforts, here are some programs Kerry said could face cuts:
- $200 million in global humanitarian assistance, citing American efforts in Syria, the Horn of Africa, and the Sahel.
- $400 million in global health funding that fights AIDS and child hunger.
- $500 million in security-assistance accounts, which goes toward conflict prevention.
- $300 million in military assistance to several nations around the world, including Egypt, Israel, and Jordan.
- $70 million in operations expenses for USAID.
Border Security: U.S. Customs and Border Protection employees could get furloughed for 12 to 14 days, which could lead to increased waiting times for border crossings and cause flight delays. In addition, 5,000 border patrol agents and 2,750 customs officers would be cut.
Education: If sequestration goes into effect, $406 million would get cut in Head Start programs, resulting in 70,000 children losing access to the service. That would lead to the layoffs of 14,000 teachers, teacher assistants, and staff who work in the program.
Disaster Relief: The Federal Emergency Management Agency would receive a $1 billion cut, while also losing over $120 million in homeland security grants.
Law Enforcement: The Justice Department would lose $1.6 billion, which would result in furloughs. Additional cuts to law-enforcement areas, officials argue, could mean missteps in the judicial system.
- $550 million cut from the FBI.
- $100 million cut from U.S. attorneys who prosecute criminal and civilian cases.
- $338 million cut from the Federal Bureau of Prisons, which would lead to furloughs and the suspended activation of two federal prisons.
- 20 percent cut from drug testing and mental-health treatment for criminals.
- 30 percent cut in court security systems.
Additional Cuts: The National Science Foundation ($375 million), the Library of Congress, NASA ($950 million), the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Patent and Trademark office would also have their budgets cut.
Exemptions: Not all federal government programs would get sliced. There are several mandatory spending programs that will not see any cuts, including Social Security, Medicaid, food stamps, veterans' benefits, and the Children's Health Insurance Program.