By Nicholas Sauma, Reporter
Media outlets have been dominated by news of the sequester for weeks now, but few people fully understand where it came from and what it means for them.
Sequestration, a massive spending cut for the federal budget, began in 2011 as a result of the Budget Control Act, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC). Congress would be given two years to work out ways to limit the deficit and cut spending by negotiations, or simply face these automatic cuts.
The beginning of January was the first time sequestration threatened Congress.The fiscal cliff was avoided by some last minute deals, but the issue of sequestration was pushed back until March.
So, what gets cut now? The specifics are unknown, but there are a few general areas. A total of nearly $85 billion dollars will be cut, evenly distributed between the defense and nondefense portions of the budget, according to the BPC and White House press releases. Within each section, the majority lowers the amount of discretionary spending allowed, but also includes cuts to Medicare within the nondefense portion.
“The effects here in Nebraska won’t be as bad as say, California, because we’re a smaller state,” said Randy Adkins, chair of UNO’s political science department. “But the real stress comes from having to rework services and budgets to compensate for the loss of federal aid.”
Adkins doesn’t think the real debate will start until people start feeling the impact of services that are withdrawn or scaled back. Nebraska’s education system, military institutions and health related fields are subject to the bulk of the cuts, but not nearly as bad as other states, including Iowa. Nebraska will lose almost $3 million for primary and secondary education, with an additional loss of around $3.5 million dollars for children with disabilities and the staff who assist them, according to White House data.
Additionally, work study jobs and federal grants will probably suffer cuts.
“It won’t be so much that they will start denying students work study, or revoke grants, but I think you’ll see less advertising for both, and certainly less people receiving future ones,” Adkins said.
Federal research grants could be reduced down the road, but it’s too early to say exactly what will happen. Civilian workers on military bases, like Offutt Air Force Base, may be furloughed, or given periods of unpaid time off because there isn’t money to pay them.
Finally, numerous health related programs within the state will lose money, from those that address children’s vaccinations, to violence against women, to nutrition assistance for seniors.
On a larger level, people have worries about what it could mean for the economy. The BCP predicts close to a 1 percent dampening of the gross domestic product, which simply slows an already sluggish economy.
“I have some bonds on the market, and I’m worried that people might take this situation seriously, even if it isn’t, and the market will start to decline,” said David Kirk, a UNO student. “I think it’s all the indecision and ignorance of what will actually happen that worries me more so than cutting the budget. It’s probably not a bad thing, actually.”
Adkins agreed. “People keep talking about slower growth, but this first week since it took effect, the markets are breaking records daily.”
At the end of the day, sequestration is still generally misunderstood. Many people have grave predictions for the future and point fingers at Congress or President Barack Obama, while others remain fairly apathetic towards the issue.
“People will try to leverage this sequestration as a political tool, but at the end of the day, I don’t think anybody truly thinks that they won,” Adkins said. “Everyone wants to reduce the deficit, but they surely wanted to do it in different ways, so we have a compromise that everyone is lukewarm towards.”