The Issue: Sequester -- No tours, no flyovers and longer waits to reach the Capitol

By NICOLE DEBEVEC, United Press International   |   March 10, 2013 at 4:30 AM   |   0 comments

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The deadline came and went for the sequester, an automatic $85 billion, across-the-board cut in spending for U.S. defense and domestic programs that took effect March 1, and -- so far -- calamity has been avoided.

Will it last? In a word, no. In several words, it depends on who's asked and whose ox is being gored.

The Obama administration has, leading up to March 1, sent Cabinet secretaries to the podium to outline what the sequester means in terms of airport wait times, border security, education and military preparedness.

The White House also released an accounting of how the sequester would affect each state individually.

Republicans in Congress said the White House was posturing and presenting the worst-case scenarios to try to build support for work to avert the cuts. Some GOP House and Senate members said they wanted the sequester to go into effect because, among other things, it was the only way lawmakers would get serious about the fiscal health of the country.

"I'm for sequestration," Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said, if Congress can't cut spending. "We've got to face the music now, or it will be much tougher later."

The White House plan includes some domestic program cuts, benefit program savings and additional tax revenue collected from some corporations and high-income people. Any plan that includes more taxes won't fly, Republicans said, with some noting Obama got his tax increase in January, so the subject is closed.

To those who said his administration was using scare tactics about the effects of the sequester, Obama said recently: "I guess it depends on where you sit. Not everybody's going to feel it or feel it all at once."

"What is true is the accumulation of all those stories ... is going to make our economy weaker," he said. "It's going to mean less growth. The loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs. That's not a scare tactic; that's a fact."

Already the sequester has had an effect, ABC News reported:

-- Air Force Training: Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said, effective immediately, "Air Force flying hours will be cut back." He said that apart from Afghanistan and nuclear deterrence, "the readiness of the other units to respond to other contingencies will gradually decline. That's not safe. And that we're trying to minimize that in every way we possibly can."

-- Capitol visits: Capitol Police issued a memo saying some entrances to the Capitol would be closed. "At this time it is anticipated that the U.S. Capitol Police will be required to close some entrance doors and exterior checkpoints, and either suspend or modify the hours of operation for some of the U.S. Capitol Complex posts located inside and outside of the CVC and Office Buildings."

Roll Call reported the Capitol Police Board alerted officials by letter the sequester would mean fewer entrances and checkpoints around the Capitol campus when the modifications go into effect Monday.

Besides longer waits outside, the board said other changes inside the complex also are likely to increase inconvenience.

"We regret any inconvenience," the letter said.

Public tours of the White House -- which must be arranged through visitors' congressional representative -- would end Saturday, with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, accusing Obama of "trying to make it tough" on Congress by ending the tours.

"The president is trying to make it tough on members of Congress," Boehner said. "It's just silly. I want to know who is being laid off at the White House. The Capitol is open for tours. We've been planning for this for months."

A House aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Roll Call the cancellation "creates a constituent relations nightmare" for members of Congress, who must inform constituents of the change.

"I understand the strategy of the administration: They're trying to make it as ugly as possible to put as much pressure as possible on Republicans to change their position," Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, said. "It's just not going to happen."

Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, introduced an amendment to a spending bill that would bar use of funds to transport the president to a golf course until public White House tours resume, Roll Call said.

Beyond the Capitol complex, budget tightening and the sequester also has forced the nation's nuclear weapons complex to step back and reassess the change from the nearly frenzied spending on a nuclear defense after the Cold War, The Washington Post said.

"The job of delivering nuclear defense was a job everybody took seriously," said Neile Miller, acting administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration. "And in a given year we spent our time concerned with achieving that and less with, I would argue, understanding the cost of things because of the imperative to deliver during the Cold War."

The NNSA, and the Defense Department to a lesser extent, must rethink how they look at the nuclear threat since they won't have unlimited cash for nuclear deterrence, the Post said. Not only is the money no longer unlimited, policymakers have realized the United States doesn't need as many nuclear weapons as it has.

Cities across the country also are trying to figure out how to do more with less because of the sequester.

"Our community in Berkeley [Calif.], along with communities in California and across the nation, will feel the impact of sequestration," Councilmember Jesse Arreguin said. "It's really unfortunate that Congress did not try to find a solution. It is compromising our economy, resulting in loss of jobs and cuts to education."

Arreguin said people relying on the city's social services will be hit especially hard due to the cuts, once their impact reaches the state, the Daily Califorian, an independent, student-run newspaper at the University of California-Berkeley.

"I think it's going to spread a lot of pain," Councilmember Kriss Worthington said. "The different non-profit organizations that get these grants are the safety net that provide extremely important programs to poor people. There will be pain spread around the city."

Officials in Berkeley, like leaders of other cities across the United States, haven't received details on the nature, timing and placement of the sequester's cuts yet.

And the sequester has some effects in other, perhaps unexpected areas, too.

An opening day flyover at Target Field, home to the Minnesota Twins, is canceled because of the sequester.

Twins Vice President Kevin Smith said the Air Force told the team budget constraints will prevent a military flyover April 1, when the Twins play their home opener against Detroit, KARE-TV, Minneapolis, reported.

An Air Force spokesperson told the Twins all public flyovers and events would be canceled because of the sequester.

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