NOW   |  October 02, 2013

Is the sequester here to stay?

The Huffington Post's Sam Stein joins the NOW panel to discuss the sequestration and the damaging impact of the cuts from the last couple months, including cuts to Head Start, Meals on Wheels and scientific research grants.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> the government may be shutting down, but eventually members of congress will have to reach an agreement over how to fund it, an agreement that's likely to include billions of dollars in indiscriminate spending cuts known as the sequester, which by the way, republicans should see as a victory. when the sequestration cuts went into place in march, the idea was that they would be so objectionable congress would negotiate a deal to replace them during the budget fight. even before republicans decided to hold the government hostage over the health care law , democrats agreed to fund the government at sequester levels. that was the budget compromise. over the past six month, little attention has been paid to the damaging effects of the sequester cuts, but make no mistake the pain has been real. the sequester has meant 57,000 fewer poor children can participate in head start . in fremont, nebraska, for example, where 40 children are already on the waiting list, head start classrooms will have to cut 15 students and one teacher. the sequester has meant that up to 140,000 low-income families and individuals could lose their housing assistance, like a houston area school bus driver who can no longer afford to rent her apartment. the sequester has meant that meals on wheels programs have cut an average of 364 meals a week for senior citizens . it has forced the forest service to lose 500 firefighters, and it has led to 700 fewer scientific research grants. according to the cbo, if the sequester cuts were canceled, it could add between 300,000 and 1.6 million jobs. democratic congressman mike honda hold the huffington post today that neither party is focused on sequestration because, quote, they have bigger things to fry. the game changed when republicans started to say, oh, let's defund obama care. the government shutdown may be temporary, but it looks like the see quester is here to stay. joining us now from washington is " huffington post " white house correspondent sam stein. sam , thanks for being here.

>> of course. thanks for having me.

>> i think it's very easy to paper over the sequester because the shutdown of the government is so much more dramatic, but the reality is democrats gave a lot when they agreed to this austerity level of funding. do democrats see it that way, that they've given enough and there is nothing more to negotiate with?

>> oh, yeah. a lot of democrats see it that way. if they had their drothers, you wouldn't be funding the government at $988 billion a year. it would be closer to $1.095 trillion a year. i thought that your comment about veterans was very lumtive about what's going on right now in terms of the broader debate. the community in washington , the media, politicians, get very worked up when somewhat superficial but obviously important things happen, such as canceled white house tours . they say these students coming to washington should have the right to see the white house . they don't seem to care all that much when you have cuts to head starts, that are happening across the board because of sequestration levels. same thing with research grants . for instance, the nih cannot accept 200 clinical patients, including 30 children with cancer, because of the government shutdown . that's obviously tragic. but there's a broader issue at play here, which is that if we fund the government at the levels that everyone assumes we'll end up being funded at, the nih will be unable to fund hundreds of grants, which could produce massive breakthroughs in cancer treatments . we're sort of missing the forest for the trees in this conversation. the defunding obama care issue is just one part of it. it's a lot of other issues stemming from this government shutdown that are obscuring the bigger issues.

>> you were talking about a dark age for science because we're not doing the research. you talk about republicans not necessary by willing sensitive to the human cost of the sequester let alone the shutdown. what about on a more local level? take it to the states where you have in california 5,611 head start kids denied a spot. 4,410 in texas. 3,847 in new york. when you talk on the hill to republicans from places like texas and north dakota , put aside peter king , who's from new york, a blue state , do they have any concern that within their own districts that kind of pain will actually cost them politically?

>> well, they absolutely have concern, but it's only when they're inside their own district. when we did this big research project on nih grants, science and medical research , universally, every congressman who met with an academic official or an nih official denied the cuts. when they come back to d.c. and the conversation turns to how do you replace those cuts, that's when it breaks down. so, yeah, it's a classic washington paradigm. when you're outside of d.c. , everyone is upset about what's happening because of the cuts they pursued when they were inside d.c.

>> so why is it then that if people objectively understand that it's even hurting if their districts, why did those republicans like peter king not have any influence over this caucus or have any voice with boehner?

>> well, i think there's numbers and geography here that are important. the republican majority is pretty narrow. about 17 seats. so boehner needs basically all of them to overcome the democrats , who are also united on this. you have about 30 republicans who are the suicide caucus map you put up there. they're from safe republican seats. they're just going to keep going further and further to the right. they're bringing the entire caucus with them. so, yeah, they might personally not feel great about cutting, you know, cancer research in their districts, but on the other hand, they're going to turn around and go with the tea party on this because they're more worried about that than anything else.

>> i was going to say, on a big level, it's about who has power and who doesn't in our country. i mean, poor people do not have lobbyists sweltering or, you know, all over washington . i also think in many ways, it is the case that the media has lost sight of the concessions the democrats sadly made in 2011 , both around sequestration and lopping $70 billion out of the budget, but that's because in many ways the democrats haven't managed to tell a story, that the real story in our country today is not about debt and deficits, it's about jobs and investment in a country that is now being disinvested in at the risk of the security of this country.

>> isn't that the point, frank? essentially they've lost the battle over austerity, despite it's crushed the economy in the u.k. essentially, it's been conceded.

>> we needed to make cuts in government spending . the sequester is a terrible way to do it. we'll be talking about the debt ceiling. those things, the sequester, it's all the same story. it's broken government. it's no way to govern. you can't just make across the board spending cuts and leave yourself no flexibility to respond to situations. no one in the private sector would run a company that way. the fact we're running a government that way, that was a big clue right there that we have broken government and now we're seeing and even more floored manifestation of it.

>> really quick exit question to you, sam . do we wind up with one big ominous negotiation that throws the debt limit, sequestration and cr all into one? is that your prediction?

>> it's one possible outcome. you're starting to see more members mention that because the shutdown is happening, because there's very little sense of a resolution down the road. they might just tie everything together with the debt limit issue. but, you know, if you look at it, i don't see how the two sides get together on that issue, too, if the conditions are we're going to defund obama care and if the democrats are insisting on, you know, raising spending levels. the two sides are very far apart. maybe a big deal is out there, but i'm not betting my money on it.

>> all right. well, "the huffing post's" sam stein on that bleak note.

>> sorry.

>> all right. after the break, it wasn't too long ago some republican leaders were against using defunding health care reform as a ransom demand for keeping the government open. those days seem like a distant memory. we'll talk about where it went wrong next. [