Precisely How We Screwed Ourselves And The Recovery
FORTUNE — Remember the sequester? The blunt, across-the-board cuts to government spending designed to deliver an austerity blast fell out of mind for most Americans back in April when Congress patched FAA funding to stave off an impending air travel nightmare. Planes kept taking off, more or less on time, and the broader predictions of economic cataclysm failed to materialize.
But the program is wreaking quiet havoc by boring into all sorts of other critical federal programs — clinical trials for cancer patients, Head Start help for low-income kids, in-home assistance for seniors, Western fire-prevention efforts, the post-Benghazi push to beef up embassy security, not to mention cuts to unemployment benefits, housing programs, public defenders, national parks, and on and on. The changes have been relatively small and diffuse enough to stay off the front pages, especially as the nation enjoys unexpectedly brisk economic growth.
That may be about to change. The first sequester cuts that could rattle the recovery are due to start hitting next week, as the Pentagon begins furloughing roughly 650,000 of its civilian employees across the country without pay for up to 11-day stretches, through September. Measuring any ripple effects from all those unpaid vacations could be tricky, since sequestration choked off funding for the Mass Layoff Statistics program, which the federal government uses to track and explain what happened whenever a company fires more than 50 people at a time.