By ALAN FRAM
What does smaller government look like? The budget standoff between President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans means Americans may soon find out, and the picture the Obama administration sketches is downright scary.
Cuts in the Navy's Pacific operations of one-third. Furloughed food inspectors forcing nationwide closures of meat and poultry plants. Ten thousand laid-off teachers. A $1 billion reduction in the relief fund for disaster victims. Less secure airline flights and longer waits on airport security screening lines. Reduced monitoring of air pollution, oil spills and hazardous waste.
All this and more because $85 billion in cuts across most federal programs will be automatically triggered March 1 unless Obama and Republicans do something that's eluded them for months: approve alternative savings.
A look at the fight over the so-called sequester, and what its impact could be:
â¿¿State of play: The cuts â¿¿ plus nearly $1 trillion more over the coming decade â¿¿ were enacted two years ago in hopes that their sheer ugliness would force the two sides to replace the reductions with a sweeping, bipartisan deficit-reduction deal. So far that's not happened.
The administration has repeatedly warned that the sequester must be avoided. White House budget office controller Daniel L. Werfel told Congress on Thursday that they would have "destructive consequences."
Though many lawmakers of both parties would like to find a way out, conservative Republicans have said they're willing to live with the reductions. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told The Associated Press this week that "we're going to be stuck with it" until Obama proposes a solution that can pass the Democratic-led Senate.
â¿¿Overall impact: Administrations past and present always excel at threatening scenarios that make it appear that life as we know it will end. In this case, the law limits the flexibility government officials will have to protect favored programs, but Werfel wrote that the White House has instructed agencies to give priority to avoiding cuts that could "present risks to life, safety or health" and seek other ways to minimize harm to important government services.