If your flight is delayed in the coming weeks, Republicans want to make sure you blame President Obama, despite having claimed that these cuts would be good for the economy. GOP lawmakers were also alarmed at the cancellation of White House tours. And now Politico is reporting that negotiations have begun to save some programs from the knife, even though this means the cuts will have to fall harder on others. Some of the programs that may be spared are surely important: public safety like the Transportation Security Administration and FBI agents, meat inspections, funding for the National Institutes of Health, air traffic controllers, and a military tuition program.
But some of the harshest pain is falling outside of the spotlight. In particular, programs that help the poor are already feeling the impact and stand to see more cuts, but they rarely get mentioned in conversations about the effects of sequestration. Low-income children have already been kicked out of Head Start, and 70,000 in total are likely to lose access to preschool. Future impacts on programs that help the poor such as housing and nutrition assistance will also take a toll.
Sequestration will also have a big impact on the long-term unemployed. About 2 million people who exhausted other unemployment benefits will see the meager $300 weekly checks reduced by more than 10 percent. The long-term unemployed already face hugely diminished prospects in a weak job market.
The deal making over what might get spared could help explain why these impacts are getting ignored. Drug companies and medical device manufacturers, for example, are seeking an exemption on the fees they pay to support their Food and Drug Administration reviews. These are large and profitable companies, so they have the resources to make a big push. As Politico reports, “Pharmaceutical companies and medical device makers say they’re unsure whether they’ll get their best chance at an exemption through regular order on appropriations bills or via the authorizing committees, so they’re targeting pretty much all the key lawmakers…” The poor and unemployed have few, if any, resources to make their voices heard in this way on how the sequester may impact their lives.
Past research has also indicated that the needs of the poor in general tend to go unheeded by members of Congress. Research from Larry Bartels and Martin Gilens has found that policymakers are far more likely to vote in line with the policy preferences of the upper middle class and wealthy than with working and low-income people. This is also likely tied to the fact that those with fewer resources have less time and money to make themselves heard.
While undoing the damaging effects of sequestration should get bipartisan attention, if the parts that affect low-income Americans keep getting ignored the most vulnerable could shoulder most of the pain.