Thursday, October 2, 2014

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With Sequestration Looming, U.Va. Experts Weigh In On Its Effects

Unless Congress acts by Friday, “a series of automatic cuts – called the sequester – will take effect that threaten hundreds of thousands of middle-class jobs, and cut vital services for children, seniors, people with mental illness and our men and women in uniform,” according to a White House report issued Sunday.

Many Republican lawmakers, on the other hand, say President Obama and the Democrats are overstating the likely impact of the sequester.

A handful of University of Virginia professors offered their thoughts on sequestration and its potential impact to Virginia and nationally.

James Savage, professor of politics in U.Va.’s College of Arts & Sciences and affiliated professor in the Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, said he was asked by the Chronicle of Higher Education last September whether he thought the sequester would take place. 

“This is what I said then, and nothing has changed,” he said. “If the power relationships stay as they are, I think there will be a sequester. Because if the Democrats accede to the Republicans on security spending now, they realize they will never again get them in this position. The Republicans know they made a mistake by including security spending cuts in the deal, and they won’t be foolish enough to do that again. 

“Meanwhile, the Republicans, especially in the House, remain committed to cutting non-security programs, and they are unlikely to give up on those cuts in any negotiation demanded by the Democrats, and especially an Obama White House.

“As for the method of sequestration, historically they have been across-the-board in unprotected accounts. It’s indiscriminate intentionally, because the politics of making specific choices among unprotected programs would be highly complex, highly difficult and immensely time-consuming.

“Let me add that the Obama administration lost its leverage on getting new revenues to offset the sequester when it agreed to the low-ball revenue deal when the Bush tax cuts expired. The Republicans will not give in to raising revenues again like that,” said Savage, who teaches a U.Va. course on “The Politics of the Budgetary Process.”

Curry School of Education Dean of Education Robert Pianta and assistant education professor Daphna Bassok discussed sequestration’s effects on education and Head Start services.

According to the White House report, Virginia would lose approximately $14 million in funding for primary and secondary education, putting around 190 teacher and aide jobs at risk. In addition about 14,000 fewer students would be served and approximately 40 fewer schools would receive funding. In addition, Virginia will lose approximately $13.9 million in funds for about 170 teachers, aides, and staff who help children with disabilities.

Head Start and Early Head Start services would be eliminated for approximately 1,000 children in Virginia, reducing access to critical early education.

“Although the vast majority of education programs are funded by state sources, the federal government provides key sources of support for education and related services for low-income children and children with special needs,” Pianta said. “The sequester will hit the more vulnerable children, schools and communities hardest.”

Bassok added, “The automatic spending cuts would have devastating implications for low-income families by substantially reducing access to educational opportunities from preschool all the way to college.

“For instance, the sequester would mean about 70,000 slots would be eliminated from the Federal Head Start program, which provides comprehensive early childhood programs for low-income 3- to 5-year-olds. Families truly rely on these services for their children’s care, education and service provision, and it’s not clear where families who are denied spots will turn,” she said.

Darden School Dean Robert Bruner addressed the issue from a business standpoint in a Feb. 25 blog post, “Sequestration is a Symptom, Not the Cause: Its Implications for Managers and Investors.”

“I think the sequester and debt-limit controversy are interesting mainly as harbingers of bigger challenges,” Bruner writes. “Congress might well mitigate the ill effects of the sequestration. And on the other hand, the buoyant economic indicators most likely reflect the impact of financial repression by the Fed and the lowest interest rates in a lifetime, rather than deep-seated economic recovery. Perhaps the best advice is to keep your eyes on the big issues and not get too distracted by the forthcoming events of March.”

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