Feb. 28 - Washington braces itself for $85 billion in mandatory federal spending cuts due to go into effect on Friday, March 1st with implications for travel, food safety, the military, and everything in between. Conway G. Gittens reports.
The clock is ticking. If there is no deal on Capitol Hill, the $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts are going to hit federal agencies hard. In Washington, D.C., many government employees, like Gary Perusse, are worried. SOUNDBITE: GARY PERUSSE, EMPLOYEE, FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION (ENGLISH) SAYING: "I am going to have to take a drastic cut in my pay if I get furloughed one day a pay period. It means that I will probably be late on a house payment, not buy enough groceries and then you throw that with gas prices going up, it is devastating." The Federal Aviation Administration is prepping to furlough all its 40,000 employees and institute a hiring freeze. Ray LaHood is the U.S. Transportation Secretary. SOUNDBITE: RAY LAHOOD, U.S. SECRETARY OF TRANSPORTATION (ENGLISH) SAYING: "We're looking at everything. We're not just looking at furlough days, we're looking at every contract, our lawyers are looking at every contract to see what impact it has for us to try and find some savings in those areas." Savings at another federal agency, the Customs and Border Protection, may mean furlough between 12 and 14 days and letting go of 2,750 customs officers and 5,000 border patrol agents. Results? delays at all ports of entry to the U.S. At the Department of Agriculture 8,400 meat inspectors will be furloughed. Tom Vilsack runs that agency. SOUNDBITE: TOM VILSACK, U.S. SECRETARY OF AGRICULTURE (ENGLISH) SAYING: "Well, the impact of this is obviously when the inspectors are not able to work because of a furlough, the line or the facility in which they are working cannot produce meat, poultry or processed eggs because we have to be there present while meat is being processed in order for it to be able to receive a mark to allow it to go in the stream of commerce. So as soon as those inspectors walk off the floor, so to speak, that place has to shut down." NY State Comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli says the biggest challenge is that nobody's really had to go through such deep budget cuts before. SOUNDBITE: THOMAS DINAPOLI, NY STATE COMPTROLLER (ENGLISH) SAYING: "It will be less of an impact directly on state finances, more on local government; but ultimately, an impact on people - educational programs, healthcare programs." REPORTER BRIDGE: CONWAY G. GITTENS, REUTERS (ENGLISH) SAYING: But the clock is not just ticking on U.S. debt or the U.S. economy, with the cuts expected to shave half a percentage point off of GDP, the International Monetary Fund is warning that it will have to cut its global growth forecast if the deal is not reached. There's another thing to worry about. Out of the $85 billion across-the-board spending cuts, only about half of that will actual be savings in the current fiscal year, according to the Congressional Budget Office. That's because federal agencies don't spend all of the money they are allocated in any given fiscal year. A $1 billion aircraft carrier, for example, may take years to build. And speaking of aircraft carriers, the Defense Department won't be spared either - defense programs will get a 13 percent cut spread across the next seven months.