domingo, 3 de marzo de 2013

The Sequester

Acosado por una deuda de proporciones bíblicas, cósmicas, por déficits múltiples, por la incapacidad de su dirigencia política (tal vez, la más corrupta del planeta), con una economía estancada y en declive desde hace cinco años, con una tasa de desempleo en alza, un consumo decreciente acompañando el estallido de burbujas de todo tipo (inmobiliaria, tarjetas de crédito, préstamos universitarios, finanzas personales, etc.) y, por sobre todas las cosas, por el persistente (aunque todavía lento) abandono del dólar a escala internacional (a pesar de los frenéticos intentos del gobierno por imponerlo a fuerza de masacres, invasiones, operaciones de inteligencia, amenazas y extorsiones de todo tipo a los países más diversos), el gobierno de los EEUU ha cedido al último chantaje de la oposición republicana. Lo llaman: “The sequestration”, o “Sequester”, término que podríamos traducirlo como “confiscación”, aunque los lectores del resto del planeta entienden de qué va la cosa: un ajustazo. Una quita de recursos al aparato estatal de casi diez años de duración del orden de más de un billón de dólares (1,2 trillion en la nomenclatura anglosajona). Nadie lo dice, pero la movida va a terminar costando tres cuartos de millón de puestos de trabajo, de empleos federales, en un momento en que el mantenimiento del empleo debería ser política de estado para este país. En síntesis, un mazazo en la cabeza de un enfermo de encefalitis aguda. Veamos:

ABC News dice:

“It's the dirtiest word in Washington right now: "sequester."

Formerly wrapped up in the "fiscal cliff" that was poised to wreck America's economy at the end of the year, the dreaded "sequester" is the spending half of that taxes-and-spending equation: It amounts to across-the-board budget cuts that will strike in March barring an agreement on deficit reduction.

The "sequester" is yet another deadline in a long line of fiscal-policy stalemates that have hounded the U.S. political system in the last two years. Because its origins were esoteric and convoluted, the "sequester" is shrouded in a degree of Washington policy mystique.

Hopefully a few answers can de-mystify it:

What Is the Sequester?
Across-the-board budget cuts. On March 1, barring agreement on a broader deficit-reduction package, many federal programs will see across-the board automatic spending reductions take effect over the next 10 years.

The 10-year cuts will total $1.2 trillion, and they'll apply equally to defense and non-defense spending.

Where Did It Come From?
From Washington's ineptitude at decision-making. Budget sequestration was brought into existence as an enforcement mechanism to make Congress and the White House agree to a package that would reduce the deficit. They still haven't done it.

In August 2011, with the nation's debt-limit deadline fast approaching, and with the threat of credit downgrades and government shutdowns looming over partisan negotiations in Washington, congressional Republicans refused to up the federal debt ceiling without accompanying spending cuts to shrink the deficit.

When talks broke down, sides agreed on the Budget Control Act -- a measure that applied discretionary spending caps and also included a mandate for more deficit-reduction in the future. It created the congressional budget "supercommittee" -- the panel of representatives and senators that were given another deadline to propose a package of spending cuts and/or tax hikes to lower the deficit.

Sequestration was agreed upon as the unpleasant consequence of failure: If the committee couldn't recommend a package by late 2011, and if Congress couldn't pass it in January 2012, $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts would be triggered.

The ploy didn't work.

A Rolling Deadline
Sequestration should have happened by now, but Congress and President Obama gave themselves an extension.

When Congress missed its Jan. 15, 2012 deadline to approve a broad package of spending cuts, sequestration was triggered, slated to begin Jan. 2, 2013. But both sides agreed they could have until the cuts were actually supposed to take effect, giving themselves another (election) year to negotiate.

On the day of the deadline, however, Washington granted itself another extension. Along with their agreement to extend most of the Bush-era tax rates, Obama and Congress approved legislation to extend the sequestration deadline to March 1.

What Will Be Cut?
Federal agencies and their budgets, including defense spending. Both mandatory and discretionary spending will be cut.

Different kinds of spending will be hit harder by percent. In September, the Office of Management and Budget estimated that if the cuts occurred as projected in January, discretionary defense spending would be cut by 9.4 percent in FY2013, mandatory defense spending would be cut by 10 percent, discretionary nondefense spending would be cut by 8.2 percent, mandatory nondefense spending would be cut by 7.6 percent, and Medicare and other mandatory health programs would be cut by 2 percent.

Some vital programs, however, will be exempt.

What Will Be Spared?
Thankfully for beneficiaries, the sequester won't touch some of the most popular and relied-upon elements of the social safety net.

Medicare, for instance, will be cut -- but under a special rule that limits spending reductions to 2 percent, and which also prevents any benefits from being reduced. Sequestration cuts would come in the form of lower payments to doctors, hospitals and private insurers, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Other programs are totally exempt. Those include Social Security, all programs administered by the Veterans Administration, Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), welfare (a.k.a. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or TANF), Pell grants, food stamps (a.k.a. the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP), and Medicare Part D low-income subsidies, among other programs.

Nobody knows exactly how it will play out. In January, the Congressional Research Service wrote, "Ultimately, the execution and impact of any automatic spending reduction ... will depend in large part on the legal interpretations and actions taken by OMB."


El Washington Post, por su parte, detalla:

How much gets cut?
The 2013 sequester includes:
* $42.7 billion in defense cuts (a 7.9 percent cut).
* $28.7 billion in domestic discretionary cuts (a 5.3 percent cut).
* $9.9 billion in Medicare cuts (a 2 percent cut).
* $4 billion in other mandatory cuts (a 5.8 percent cut to nondefense programs, and a 7.8 percent cut to mandatory defense programs).

That makes for a total of $85.4 billion in cuts. Note: numbers here updated to latest CBO figures; thanks to Center for Budget and Policy Priorities for noting the difference from initial OMB numbers.

More will be cut in 2014 and later; from 2014 to 2021, the sequester will cut $87 to $92 billion from the discretionary budget every year, and $109 billion total.

Will any programs actually end?

Nope. The sequester cuts discretionary spending across-the-board by $109.3 billion a year from 2014-2021 and $85.4 billion in 2013. But no programs are actually eliminated. The effect is to reduce the scale and scope of existing programs rather than to zero out any of them.
What notable programs get cut?
Here are just a few. 

* Aircraft purchases by the Air Force and Navy are cut by $3.5 billion.
* Military operations across the services are cut by about $13.5 billion.
* Military research is cut by $6.3 billion.
* The National Institutes of Health get cut by $1.6 billion.
* The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are cut by about $323 million.
* Border security is cut by about $581 million.
* Immigration enforcement is cut by about $323 million.
* Airport security is cut by about $323 million.
* Head Start gets cut by $406 million, kicking 70,000 kids out of the program.
* FEMA’s disaster relief budget is cut by $375 million.
* Public housing support is cut by about $1.94 billion.
* The FDA is cut by $206 million.
* NASA gets cut by $970 million.
* Special education is cut by $840 million.
* The Energy Department’s program for securing our nukes is cut by $650 million.
* The National Science Foundation gets cut by about $388 million.
* The FBI gets cut by $480 million.
* The federal prison system gets cut by $355 million.
* State Department diplomatic functions are cut by $650 million.
* Global health programs are cut by $433 million; the Millenium Challenge Corp. sees a $46 million cut, and USAID a cut of about $291 million.
* The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is cut by $55 million.
* The SEC is cut by $75.6 million.
* The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is cut by $2.6 million.
* The Library of Congress is cut by $31 million.
* The Patent and Trademark office is cut by $156 million.

Will military personnel see their pay or benefits cut?
Pay: no. Benefits: yes. While military salaries are exempt from the sequester, benefits like tuition assistance and the TRICARE program (which provides health care to personnel and their families, among others) are not.

Will federal employee salaries get cut?
Technically, no, but effectively, yes. The Congressional Research Service has written that a sequester may not “reduce or have the effect of reducing the rate of pay an employee is entitled to” under their federal pay scale. However, the sequester is likely to cause furloughs, which amount to unpaid time off, or, basically, a pay cut.”

Con este ya van cien posts de Astroboy en Multiverso. Seguiremos molestando. Hasta la próxima.

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