(CBS NEWS) -- The Obama administration has overreached three times in the past 10
days in attempting to illustrate the negative impact of the sequester
spending cuts in the short term, giving fodder to those seeking to play
down the impact of the cuts.
On Monday, Homeland
Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told reporters that major airports
had seen lines ballooning to 150-200 percent their normal size. The
Transportation Security Administration later clarified that it was not
yet seeing longer-than-normal checkpoint lines, though Customs and
Border Protection told CBS News there had been increased wait times at two airports due to reduced staffing.
The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday,
however, that "officials representing a dozen major airports said there
were few if any unusual flight delays or lines at security or customs
checkpoints." That included an official at John F. Kennedy Airport in
New York, which is one of the two airports that had been specifically
cited by Customs and Border Protection.
meanwhile, President Obama said that janitors at the U.S. Capitol would
receive a pay cut due to the sequester cuts. Carlos Elias, the
superintendent of the U.S. Capitol building and the Capitol Visitors
Center, quickly emailed employees to say "This is NOT TRUE," adding that "The pay and benefits of EACH of our employees WILL NOT be impacted."
prior Sunday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan had said on CBS' "Face
the Nation" that "There are literally teachers now who are getting pink
slips, who are getting notices that they can't come back this fall." He later acknowledged that he "misspoke" after fact checkers found no evidence for the claim.
Monday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was asked what was being
done to ensure the figures were not being exaggerated. Carney responded
by pointing to long-term projections of job losses from economic
analysts and "numerous examples already of what's going to happen,"
including plans to furlough 750,000 Department of Defense Workers.
about the issue again Tuesday - specifically why Napolitano did not
check her facts before making her claims regarding longer lines - Carney
said it is a "fact" that "there will be negative effects on our air
traffic because of the reductions in FAA man hours, air traffic
controllers in particular."
"And efforts to muddy that
fact by, you know, singling out a certain statement...we can do that,
but there are real people out there who will be delayed or who will have
their wages cut or...who will lose their jobs as a result of the
sequester, while folks in Washington are arguing over whether this
particular impact happened when we said it was going to happen or a week
later or a month later," he said.
is no question that the $1.2 trillion in nearly across-the-board
sequester spending cuts -- $85 billion this year - will have a
significant impact in a number of areas, including air travel. The
Congressional Budget Office predicted it could mean 750,000 fewer jobs
by the end of the year and reduce GDP by 0.5 percent; among those who
could lose their jobs are FBI agents, food safety inspectors and border
Barring changes, there will be significant cuts to Head Start,
nutrition assistance and special education programs, research funding,
public housing support, the FDA, NASA, the SEC, the CDC, the NIH and a host of other programs and agencies.
Military operations will be cut by $13.5 billion, with $3.5 billion in
cuts to aircraft purchases by the Air Force and Navy. Airport security
and immigration enforcement will be cut by an estimated $323 billion
each, and border security will be cut by about $581 million.
Americans are not directly affected by these cuts, however, which is
why the administration has sought to put the focus on issues like air
travel that have a broader reach. But while officials expect increases
in delays as overtime is reduced, hiring is frozen and air traffic
controllers are furloughed due to the sequester, the impact will be
In its zeal to make the case for a more immediate impact than
seems to have happened, the administration may have made it harder to
undo the cuts down the road, said former John McCain communications
director Dan Schnur, Director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of
Politics at the University of Southern California.
more than a little bit of a White House-who-cried-wolf danger that's
beginning to emerge," he said. "If the sequester does eventually cause
serious inconvenience or real pain to many people, these overstatements
may not have much of a long-term impact. But in the short run, it makes
the voters more skeptical as to whether the administration is being
honest with them."
It's worth noting that in his Friday
news conference, Mr. Obama seemed to be trying to temper some of the
strong warnings that his administration had pushed. He said the
sequester is "dumb" but "is not going to be an apocalypse," adding that
it will hurt people but probably not cause a "huge financial crisis."
Republicans, who generally support dramatic spending cuts - if not
the sequester cuts specifically - were mocking the administration's dire
warnings before the sequester went into effect. "Most of the nation
will wake up Friday morning and yawn," Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., said
last week, as Fox News reported. Sen.
John Cornyn, R-Texas, said the administration was using the sequester
"to scare people in order to grow the size of government." Senate
Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said it's "absurd to think
that the government cannot get by with a little more than a 2 percent
reduction in spending." Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., complained the sequester
didn't cut enough.
On Monday, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., introduced a bill to
address the next big fiscal deadline - the looming expiration of funds
to keep the government running on March 27. The $982 billion bill would
fund the government through late September, and would soften many
sequester cuts that Republicans don't like. The FBI and Customs and
Border Protection, for example, would not be forced to cut staff, and
full spending bills attached to the bill would give the Departments of
Defense and Veterans' Affairs flexibility in implementing the cuts.
The White House did not issue a veto threat on Rogers' bill. In a statement, it did say that the bill
"raises concerns about the Government's ability to protect consumers,
avoid deep cuts in critical services that families depend on, and
implement critical domestic priorities such as access to quality and
affordable health care."
The White House on Tuesday did
find one way to illustrate the immediate impact of the sequester: An
administration official said the White House is canceling all public tours due to staffing reductions,
effective Saturday. Republicans quickly lashed out at the move, with
former House Speaker and GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich tweeting that it is "childish and dishonest," as well as "silly and demeaning."
Pat Roberts, R-KS: "This is perception politics run amok. The White
House spends tens of thousands of dollars each year on Christmas
decorations and elaborate events, but when asked to trim its budget they
opt to close the White House gate to the American people."