So here we are again: another day, another apocalypse. This one is called the sequester, a charming little moniker that sounds more like a euphemism for an elementary school timeout than the end of the world as we know it.
But those are basically the two narratives we are offered about what will happen Friday. Either this is hardly a blip on the radar screen or it is confirmation that the Mayans simply had the date wrong about the end of the world.
What it is, of course, is yet another battle for the hearts and minds of Americans through a gridlocked Congress and further proof that the politics of brinkmanship are alive and well in our nation's capital. The sequester is a crisis that was manufactured by Congress as a means of "solving" a previous "crisis."
It is the now-familiar debate between Republicans, who argue for significant cuts in federal spending, and Democrats, who want to raise taxes, especially on the rich. And, frankly, it is wearing thin because most of us know that the right way forward lies somewhere in between.
But, manufactured or not, the sequester debate should bring the nation's economic choices into sharp relief, and if the sequester is invoked Friday there will be some short-term impact that reaches far beyond the federal government.
President Barack Obama said he will begin slashing $85 billion in federal spending unless a compromise deal is reached by Friday. That will mean, he said, a cut of about 8 percent from the Pentagon budget and 5 percent from most discretionary programs. To be honest, such threatened cuts don't resonate with most Americans because they know both areas can withstand them. That is why last weekend the White House made it personal when it released a state-by-state list of likely cuts.
It is clear that the cuts will certainly be personal for California.
According to fiscal experts, the cuts could cost the Golden State 225,000 current and future jobs, about $670 million annually in federal grants, plus $3.3 billion in statewide military and defense revenue. The University of California and the U.S. student aid program also would be affected. So would school districts around the state to the tune of $87.6 million in funding for primary and secondary education, putting about 1,210 teacher and aide jobs at risk.
Air traffic control towers at small airports in cities such as Concord and Livermore would be closed and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said major airports, including SFO, could face flight delays of about 90 minutes because of worker furloughs. Military bases in the region and defense labs such as Lawrence Livermore and Sandia National Laboratories and businesses with government contracts are also bracing for reductions. Federal government employees will face furloughs. The list goes on.
We wish we could be optimistic about a reasonable, last-minute deal. We can't. So we, like the rest of the nation, will batten down the hatches and patiently ride out the storm as we wait for our elected representatives to get serious.