If Sequestration Isn't The Apocalypse, What Is It?

Host Rachel Martin and NPR's Scott Horsley cover the three most important elements of the federal budget cuts known as sequestration, which went into effect Friday.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. The $85 billion in automatic spending cuts that our representatives in Washington say they don't want - those cuts are now real. And here in Washington this past week, it seems to be all anyone has talked about.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: A fiscal time bomb...

CHRIS MATTHEWS: This Frankenstein's monster, this doomsday machine.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: The dreaded sequester.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Sequester.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: The sequester.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: Sequestration.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Sequestration.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: The sequester.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Now, that's a pretty bad name - sequester - but the effects are even worse than the name.

MARTIN: President Obama was on the road warning that the cuts were a bad idea. And members of both parties spent the week blaming each other for the mess. Here's Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner:

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: We have moved a bill in the House twice. We should not have to move a third bill before the Senate gets off their ass and begins to do something.

MARTIN: That got this response from the Democratic leader of the Senate, Harry Reid.

SENATOR HARRY REID: I think he should understand who is sitting on their posterior.

MARTIN: And there was a breathless countdown as each day came and went with no new developments.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #4: Cuts are set to take effect in just four days.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: Good evening and we are now within 72 hours...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #5: And only two days to go.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #6: Set to go into effect tomorrow.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #6: Tomorrow is the big day.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #7: Today is upon us.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #8: It is deadline day.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #9: The axe falls at midnight.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #7: The clock is ticking towards midnight.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #8: The budget deal that wasn't.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #10: Across-the-board government spending cuts now in place.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: Yet here we are and the world hasn't come to an end. But the cuts are big and have been a long time in the making. So, we wanted to get a handle on the major issues at play here, and just understand the three most important things about these spending cuts. NPR's Scott Horsley is here to help us answer that question. Hey, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: OK. So, what is the first thing that we really need to know.

HORSLEY: OK. Come out from under your dining room table. Take a deep breath. This is not a catastrophe. You know, the White House, which had been hoping to head these cuts off, had spent the last several weeks warning us of just how bad they were going to be. Now that they're here, the president himself is sort of dialing back the alarm a bit. He said on Friday, this is not an apocalypse. In fact, in the short term, these cuts might be pretty invisible to a lot of people.

MARTIN: OK. That's the first thing. Number two.

HORSLEY: Even though it's not an apocalypse, it is bad for the economy. And the longer these cuts remain in effect, the worst it will get. People whose paychecks depend either directly or indirectly on the federal government are going to find those checks getting a little smaller. Nonpartisan forecasters say it's going to slow our economic growth, which was not very robust to start with. It's going to cost jobs - three-quarters of a million jobs, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

MARTIN: OK. So, in our list of the top three things that we need to know about the spending cuts, what is number three?

HORSLEY: It's just brain-dead policy. This is what government gridlock looks like in budgetary form. I mean, aside from the economic damage that we talked about, this move cuts spending in areas where the government shouldn't be cutting, like public works, and it fails to cut spending in areas where the government should be trying to save some money, like long-term health care cost. But as brain-dead as this policy is, it looks like we're stuck with it, at least for the time being.

MARTIN: NPR's Scott Horsley breaking it down for us. Thanks so much, Scott.

HORSLEY: My pleasure, Rachel.

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