The Truth about Obama's Sequestration Report

February 27, 2013

With March 1's sequestration threat looming, the White House has released a state-by-state report of sequestration's effects. The report is full of doom and gloom predictions like long lines at airports and the loss of special education funding. The predictions involve some large assumptions and generally overstate the impact of sequestration, says Politico.

  • The direst predictions are about education funding, where sequestration cuts could hurt 2,700 schools, 1.2 million disadvantaged students and result in the loss of funding for 7,200 special education teachers and staff members.
  • The two programs referenced, Title I and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, are funded in advance, which means that these dire predictions would not occur until the next school year.
  • Since teacher hiring decisions aren't made until April and May, President Obama and Congress would have some time to negotiate a deal to prevent the cuts.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker John Boehner have hinted at retroactively funding some agencies or initiatives after sequestration takes effect.

  • The White House report claims that cuts in funding for customs agents and Transportation Security Administration staff could lead to longer airport lines, but given that existing lines are already long, it would be hard to tell much of a difference.
  • The report also claims that cuts within the Food and Drug Administration would create delays in new drug approvals but drugmakers have been complaining about slow approval times for years and would be unlikely to notice much of a difference.
  • The administration also estimates that 70,000 students would see their Head Start program shut down, but Kenneth Wolfe, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, says the estimate should not be taken literally as it is based on "historic funding levels."

The report is based mostly on estimates and historic funding levels and is only a rough guide of the potential impact of sequestration. The White House claims it got its estimates from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the OMB says its data came from each Cabinet agency. The agencies cannot give a clear answer on how they arrived at their numbers. Congressional appropriations committee aides say they cannot fact check the administration's estimates because they have too little information to work with.

When the report's projections are based on an assumption, multiplied by an assumption, divided by an estimate which is then adjusted by another assumption, it is very difficult to come up with a reliable prediction of what the impact of sequestration may actually be.

Source: David Nather, "Is President Obama Telling the Truth about Sequestration?" Politico, February 25, 2013.

 

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