What if we sequester and nobody notices?

Thursday - 2/21/2013, 2:00am EST

A nonfederal reader wants to know where all the sequestration-related "horror stories that we read in the paper or hear about on radio and TV come from?" She asks "is there any basis to reports that FBI agents will be pulled off the streets and air travel will become more dangerous."

Good question.

Like many things in Washington the answer is yes and no!

The yes part is that the threats come from on-high reliable sources. Like the White House and from Cabinet officials. Sequestration-related horror stories come from lots of places, up to and including the White House. There's the 394-page guide to sequestration put out by the Office of Management and Budget, including a lengthy beginning explaining the perils of sequestration and who is to blame — House Republicans — if it happens. It says, several times, that poor children would be hurt and go hungry, that everybody from the FBI to FEMA and Homeland Security would be impacted, and that the FAA couldn't continue to do its job (last year was the safest in history).

For example the sequestration guidelines say that:

Education grants to States and local school districts supporting smaller classes, after-school programs, and children with disabilities would suffer. The number of Federal Bureau of Investigation agents, Customs and Border Patrol agents, correctional officers, and federal prosecutors would be slashed. The Federal Aviation Administration's ability to oversee and manage the Nation's airspace and air traffic control would be reduced. The Department of Agriculture's efforts to inspect food processing plants and prevent foodborne illnesses would be curtailed. The Environmental Protection Agency's ability to protect the water we drink and the air we breathe would be degraded. The National Institutes of Health would have to halt or curtail scientific research, including needed research into cancer and childhood diseases. The Federal Emergency Management Agency's ability to respond to incidents of terrorism and other catastrophic events would be undermined. And critical housing programs and food assistance for low-income families would be cut."

That is the yes part.

The no part comes when reality sets in, should sequestration take place. In the first place, things like furloughs require a 30-day notice. In some cases, sequestration-triggered events couldn't take place until after a 45-day notice period. Lots of things could happen in the interim.

Finally, there is always the chance (not guaranteed with politicians) that reality will set in. Suppose, worst-case scenario, furloughs are ordered at the Justice Department, the FAA or TSA. Is it likely that every single FBI or DEA agent would be furloughed on the same day every week. Would the FAA shut down operations on Thursday? Would the TSA tell all its people to stay home on a Friday or Saturday?

Politicians, many of them millionaires with agendas, have treated the sequestration threat differently at different times. Sometimes it is imminent and dangerous. At other times, it is a bluff, a mirage or as the President said recently "It isn't going to happen."

Unless there is a last-minute compromise (like a revival of the Simpson-Bowles plan of yore), sequestration could be triggered. But during the period when it starts and when things (like furloughs) can and do kick in (April at the earliest) Congress and the White House could work something out with each political party claiming victory.


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

Compiled by Jack Moore

The only word in the English language with three "y's" is syzygy, an astronomical term to describe the alignment of three celestial objects.

(Source: Dictionary.com)


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