Q: What does Obama say?
A: The president, in a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, pointed out that Republicans voted for the cuts. Democrats insist that any deal to avoid the sequester must include tax increases on people with high incomes. Republicans counter that any tax increase in a slow economic recovery would be a mistake.
Q: Are negotiations taking place to avoid the cuts?
A: Small groups of senators, Republicans and Democrats, are trying to come up with an alternative that could be attached to a bill for keeping the government in operating funds through next March. Congress will vote on that spending bill in September. But, because critical players aren’t involved in the negotiations, a September solution is given little chance. Plus, just the threat of sequester provides Obama and Democrats with political leverage in an end-of-the-year fight in December over their effort to raise tax rates on the wealthy.
Q: Is sequester part of the so-called fiscal cliff?
A: Yes. The cliff is the prospect of the Bush-era tax cuts expiring Jan. 1 and the automatic spending cuts occurring at the same time. Most economists fear that a combination of higher income taxes on virtually everyone and a simultaneous big drop in government spending would plunge a still fragile economy back into recession.
Q: If sequester happens, what specific programs would be cut?
A: Obama signed a bill Tuesday requiring the White House to report to Congress within 30 days on how it will implement the sequester cuts to defense and domestic programs. Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told Congress last week that the Pentagon would try to protect the accounts for the war in Afghanistan as much as possible. However, training could be affected. Some managers would be forced to buy fewer weapons, such as four fewer F-35 aircraft and 12 fewer Stryker vehicles, while ship programs might be delayed, Carter said. Some defense contractors have suggested that layoffs were likely and warning notices could go out 60 days in advance — four days before the election. But Carter pointed out that money already in the pipeline, typical for long-term defense contracts, would not be affected. Zients said the sequester could mean 100,000 children lose their place in Head Start while food safety and workplace safety inspections are reduced. The National Institutes of Health would have to curtail research, Zients said.