At first, we were told, it was going to ruin everything. Then, it seemed, it was nothing at all. Now, though, it is becoming more and more apparent that the wide swath of federal budget cuts known collectively and ungrammatically as "the sequester" are causing serious annoyances to many and frightening threats to others.
The sequester is the latest in a long line of budget gimmicks cooked up in Washington Republicans and Democrats each blaming the other when Congress and the White House proved unable to come up with any real thoughtful spending plan, much less the Grand Bargain that all were supposedly in search of.
Our elected leaders set themselves a deadline March 1, 2013 by which time they were supposed to have reached a budget deal or automatic spending cuts of some $85 billion would kick in. The idea, supported at the time by both parties, was that the impact of such a large and, more importantly, sudden and somewhat scattershot drop in federal spending would be such a horrible threat that no one would want it to actually happen. The pressure to come up with a much more intelligent deal would, in theory, be so great as to force a better settlement.
It didn't. Not by the deadline and not before the last several days, when the impacts actually started causing changes in real life. The long-term ripple effect can only drag down the overall economy, costing jobs in and out of government.
One of the first things to be noticed by many nonpoliticians was the reduction in staffing for the air traffic control system. The result of that was delays of more than two hours for many flights. Other ripples in that pond have been layoffs at defense contractors such as Utah's L-3 Communication Systems, delays in the seasonal opening of national parks and, just when a nation of people is looking to their mailboxes for their annual income tax refunds, cuts and office closings at the Internal Revenue Service.
The latest, and worst, news on this front is that cuts in Medicare spending are forcing many Utah cancer patients to drive past the local clinics where they have been receiving life-saving chemotherapy and go on to more distant and, in the long-run, more expensive hospitals for their care.
We elect the president and Congress to put together and pass spending plans that will maintain the vital services of government, recognize the importance of government spending to the larger economy and work toward serious reductions in the national deficit. News from the sequester establishes that none of those tasks is being accomplished.