A new psychological disorder is afflicting Washington: sequestration derangement syndrome.
Symptoms for members of Congress include deep remorse for voting for last year’s Budget Control Act and the sin of forcing $110 billion in automatic cuts to government spending on Jan. 2, 2013. Defense contractors’ symptoms include cold sweats about defense budgets dropping from post-World War II highs.
The Pentagon is experiencing verbal tics. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta called the $55-billion hit to defense spending in January “doomsday.” Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Manufacturing and Industrial Base Policy Brett Lambert described sequestration as “fiscal castration” that would “truly emasculate the industrial base.”
Non-defense portions of the government are just as vulnerable.
According to a study by Bloomberg Government, nondefense discretionary spending, from the Department of the Interior to NASA to the Department of Agriculture, will take a 9.1-percent hit the day after New Year’s if Congress and the president don’t agree to stop it.
Lockheed Martin is the Pentagon’s largest contractor and the number one supplier to the Department of Transportation and NASA. CEO Robert Stevens warned that the cuts “will disrupt the lives of a significant portion of our 120,000 employees.” CEOs threaten to spread the nervousness by sending layoff notices to thousands of employees before the election.
The White House this week missed a deadline to provide Congress with a diagnosis of the impact on each agency. Congress alone can’t avert sequestration cuts even as it prepares a continuing resolution to fund the government for six more months.
Like a bad cold, sequestration is as unavoidable as it is reviled, unless, of course, Congress and the president somehow act affirmatively to avoid it.