The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Politics

February 9, 2013

Two years later, 2011 budget cuts look ephemeral

(Continued)

To fix that problem, the U.S. General Services Administration had proposed building a new crossing, adding extra inspection lanes to speed travelers through. But after the April 2011 cuts, the GSA "zeroed out" that project, on which it had proposed to spend $84 million in 2011.

Now local officials are hoping for an unorthodox solution: They want a private company to build the border post and then lease it back to the government.

Without that, "we don't have a breath of hope for another five years at the very least," said John R. Renison, an Imperial County, Calif., supervisor whose district includes the Calexico crossing. "It looks like there's just not the political will [to pay for the crossing], even though they know they need it."

Even though the April 2011 bill made these real reductions, its legacy has been defined by its illusions. The impressive-sounding "cuts" added in to placate hard-charging conservatives have — upon further review — served to alienate them instead.

Since then, in fact, Congress has tended to eschew the line-by-line approach that guided the April 2011 cuts. Instead, it has simply slashed a percentage off the top of agency budgets. The deal that ended the debt-ceiling debate cut $25 billion this way.

Now Washington is facing the "sequester," which would cut $85 billion starting March 1. The administration has sought to persuade Republicans to cancel it or replace it with a package of spending cuts and tax increases.

That, at times, has made for an awkward argument. Two years later, it appears that some of the budget cuts from April 2011 turned out to be less painful than originally believed. But the White House says that can't happen again.

This time, it says, the cuts would be very real and very painful.

"Reductions that were possible in 2011 are not possible in 2013," said Gordon of the Office of Management and Budget. "The resources that could be cut, they've been cut. The low-hanging fruit is gone."

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