Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Support NHPR's local journalism and you could win a trip to Reykjavik, Iceland OR London, England!

How Will Sequestration Affect The Federal Budget?


And now let's go to our latest installment in the series Fiscal Cliff Notes.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: On January 1st, 2013 there's going to be a massive fiscal cliff of large spending cuts.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: ...painful cuts to the Defense Department, food safety, education...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: ...the Bush tax cuts, the payroll tax cuts...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Taxmageddon.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: It's a cliff.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: Whatever your preferred imagery...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #6: It's a really big deal.


MONTAGNE: Last week we looked at possible cuts to the Defense Department as part of what's known as sequestration - automatic across-the-board spending cuts to government expenditures, set in motion by last year's fight over the debt ceiling. Today, NPR's Tamara Keith has this look at the effect on the rest of the federal budget.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: The so-called entitlement programs, Social Security and Medicare, are largely protected, which leaves non-defense discretionary spending. And with a name like that, you'd be excused for not knowing what the heck it is or how it could possibly affect your life.

STEPHEN FULLER: There is stuff that we just take for granted that will stop.

KEITH: Stephen Fuller is a professor at George Mason University who analyzed the cuts for a trade group. He says right off the top, you can expect a 15-percent reduction in the federal workforce.

FULLER: All of a sudden the food inspectors aren't on the job. The national parks shut down for - not just for a week but for months. FBI - everybody is going to feel a nibble, and some are going to have big ones.

KEITH: According to a report from the Office of Management and Budget, most departments and programs will face an 8.2 percent cut. Homeland Security, disaster assistance, air traffic control, cancer research - just about everything. Details aren't out yet on precisely how these cuts would be made, but that same report calls sequestration, quote, "deeply destructive."

In education, because of the way the money is distributed, the full impact wouldn't hit until July. But some districts, those that rely most on federal funding, would feel it right away.

MARC JACKSON: We are bracing ourselves.

KEITH: Marc Jackson is superintendent of the Silver Valley Unified School District in Yermo, California.

JACKSON: Eighty-one miles to the east of San Bernardino, probably 149 miles west of Las Vegas, we are in the middle of the Mojave Desert.


KEITH: At Silver Valley High School, and all of the district's seven schools, a majority of the students come from military families. This qualifies Silver Valley for special federal payments - and special vulnerability to the automatic spending cuts. Jackson says his district would immediately lose more than a million dollars.

JACKSON: The sequestration is going to hurt students and it's going to hurt staff. These are cuts that are harmful to all the things that we're trying to do in schools. And that really bothers me.

KEITH: What's on the line? Teacher training that's helped improve test scores, and school buses that transport some students as many as 50 miles each way to class.

The sequester would send federal education spending back to 2002 levels, says Joel Packer, executive director of the Committee for Education Funding.

JOEL PACKER: And in those 10 years, there's been millions more students. The number of students in poverty has increased. The number of English language learner students has increased. So more students, more students who need extra services and we would move 10 years backwards in funding.

KEITH: Packer has been lobbying against the sequester since the idea was suggested. Now unless Congress acts to reverse it, automatic across-the-board spending cuts are less than three months away.

Tamara Keith, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.

You make NHPR possible.

NHPR is nonprofit and independent. We rely on readers like you to support the local, national, and international coverage on this website. Your support makes this news available to everyone.

Give today. A monthly donation of $5 makes a real difference.