Updated: March 28, 2013 6:39AM
Horrible stuff will happen real fast. So says the Obama administration.
But just as likely nobody will feel the pain immediately if and when our nation slides over the so-called fiscal cliff Friday, which paradoxically could be even worse. The pain will come, just more slowly, sapping the political will for Washington to grow up and cut spending — and increase revenues — in a more reasoned way.
Don’t be misled by those who would love to reduce federal spending to the price of a cup of coffee. The sequester, if allowed to kick in, will hurt far more than it helps.
President Barack Obama, in agreeing late last year to the sequester, in which $485 billion would be slashed mindlessly, never actually thought it would come to this. No way, the president and his team chortled, would Republicans allow a meat ax approach to budgeting that delivers a blow even to the military. Certainly, they would agree to a more balanced mix of spending cuts and revenue increases.
But budget hawks have overwhelmed Pentagon hawks.
Our best guess is that the sequester’s 13 percent cut to the Defense Department and 9 percent to discretionary programs won’t lead immediately to horror stories, but it will lead in due time to furloughs and layoffs of Pentagon civilian personnel, food inspectors, FBI agents, Homeland Security border agents, airport staff and other federal workers. Our airports and food will be less safe, our borders less secure, and on and on.
On Tuesday, we saw little progress toward heading off the sequester.
We may not be in for a hard fall, but get ready for a long slide.