Automatic spending cuts that took effect Friday are expected to touch a vast range of government services. Some examples:
One of the Navy’s premier warships, the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman, sits pier-side in Norfolk, Va., its deployment to the Persian Gulf delayed. The carrier and its 5,000-person crew were to leave Feb. 8, along with the guided-missile cruiser USS Gettysburg. The Navy also began plans to gradually shut down four of its air wings — which include 50 to 60 aircraft each and are assigned to the carriers — and delay and cancel the deployments of several other ships.
Furlough notices will begin going out later this month to about 800,000 defence 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.
Veterans’ funerals at Arlington National Cemetery could be cut to 24 a day from 31, meaning delays in burials for troops from past wars. Troops killed in action in Afghanistan will be the priority — they are usually laid to rest within two weeks, Army spokesman George Wright said. But overall funerals would be reduced by about 160 a month because of furloughs among civilian employees who work with families to schedule services as well as furloughs among crews that dig the graves and do other grounds work.
Pentagon investments in countering cyberthreats and nuclear proliferation will be at risk, says Michael Vickers, the undersecretary of defence for intelligence. And the head of the Defence Intelligence Agency, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, says the agency could be hit hard because it depends heavily on military and civilian personnel to accomplish its mission.
Coast Guard rescue aircraft will fly fewer hours and cutters will patrol the seas for fewer hours, says Commandant Adm. Robert J. Papp. Emergencies will be a priority and interdictions of illegal immigrants, drugs and illegal fishing could decline.
Hundreds of illegal immigrants have been freed from jail across the country. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials say they had reviewed several hundred cases of immigrants and decided to put them on an “appropriate, more cost-effective form of supervised release” in a move started Tuesday.
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. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Margaret Hamburg says most of the effects wouldn’t be felt for a while, and the agency won’t have to furlough workers.
Hospitals, doctors and other Medicare providers will see a 2 per cent 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 Barack Obama and congressional Republicans actually did reach a sweeping agreement to reduce federal deficits. Automatic cuts taking effect Friday would reduce Medicare spending by about $100 billion over a decade. But Obama had put on the table $400 billion in health care cuts, mainly from Medicare. And Republicans wanted more.
On the other hand, Obama’s health overhaul law is expected to roll out on time and largely unscathed by the cuts. Part of the reason is that the law’s major subsidies to help uninsured people buy private health coverage are structured as tax credits. So is the Affordable Care Act’s assistance for small businesses. Tax credits have traditionally been exempted from automatic cuts.
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 like New York, Chicago and San Francisco could have delays of up to 90 minutes during peak hours because fewer controllers will be on duty.
Though the spending cuts are scheduled to go into effect on Friday, furloughs of controllers won’t kick in until April because the Federal Aviation Administration is required by law to give its employees advance notice. In addition to furloughs, the FAA is planning to eliminate midnight shifts for air traffic controllers at 60 airport towers, close over 100 control towers at smaller airports and reduce preventative maintenance of equipment.
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. Salazar and National Park Service director Jon Jarvis 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 per cent 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 centres and taxpayer assistance centres. 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 per cent. Thousands of veterans would not receive job counselling. Fewer Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspectors could mean 1,200 fewer inspections of dangerous work sites.