Political battle looming over budget deficit

Mandatory budget cuts are likely to go into effect as Congress battles over sequester. Democratic members of Congress are against the sequester.
February 15, 2013 8:38:54 PM PST
Unless Congress acts, mandatory federal spending cuts are likely to go into effect two weeks from Friday. New details have emerged about how big an impact those cuts could have here in the Bay Area.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that sequestration will cost the economy 750,000 jobs. Across the board cuts to defense and domestic programs will be felt everywhere. Just the threat of the cuts is already taking a toll at San Francisco's second largest employer.

The University of California, San Francisco gets $500 million a year for education and research from the National Institutes of Health, which is more than any other public university in the country. That money is an enormous payoff for the Bay Area.

"Some of the early discoveries that went into how you manipulate genes went into creation of the technologies that started Genentech," said USCF Associate Vice-Chancellor S. Claiborne Johnston.

Johnston says if the sequester takes place, $28 million will be cut from this year's budget. One project on the chopping block is research into lowering blood pressure to reduce the risk of stroke.

"Very highly rated project, great investigator, should be funded, won't be funded in this climate," Johnston said.

San Francisco Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi does not want to see that money taken away. "Investments in biomedical research, the whole world is in competition on this and we're going to cut our investments to biomedical research?" she asked.

Friday, Congressional Democrats pushed back against the $85 billion in cuts that kick in on March 1, which could mean longer lines at the airport as TSA will begin to furlough security inspectors. Border Patrol could lose 5,000 agents. 70,000 children from low-income families could be kicked out of Head Start. And defense spending cuts will push thousands of workers in California into unemployment.

Pelosi puts the blame squarely on the Republican Party. "Republican Party in the Congress is dominated by anti-government ideologues," she said.

Pelosi says Republicans want the cuts and that some are certainly are cheering them on including Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. "Not only should the sequester stand, many pundits say the sequester is far short, that we need $4 trillion in cuts," he said.

"There won't be any easy off ramps on this one. The days of 11th hour negotiations are over," Republican Senator Mitch McConnell said.

At UCSF, Johnston says it seems incredible that Congress would put the brakes on an engine of economic growth.

"The economic growth that the Bay Area has relied on, that California has relied on, that's really fundamental to the whole country," Johnston said.

Whose idea was the sequester in the first place? The blame or the credit goes to President Barack Obama's White House. They proposed it in hopes of using these drastic, across the board cuts as leverage to force Congress to compromise on deficit reduction.

The compromise never came and now the Republicans are saying "Bring it on."


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