WASHINGTON — In the weeks that led to the huge across-the-board cuts to federal spending early this year, Obama administration officials warned of dire consequences.
Then when the cuts known as sequestration hit, there were few of the predicted calamities, although several antipoverty and science programs like Head Start and the National Institutes of Health suffered damage.
But while the most dire predictions may not have materialized in 2013, the tricks that many agencies employed — deferring maintenance, using unspent money from earlier years, cutting staff by attrition — are likely to be exhausted by 2014, when federal departments must trim an additional $24 billion from already tight budgets. This year, sequestration shaved $85 billion from domestic and military programs.
House and Senate budget negotiators, forced together by the deal that ended the recent 16-day government shutdown, will finally sit down Wednesday to devise a spending plan for the current fiscal year. Though Republicans and Democrats remain far apart on virtually every matter of policy, they agree on one: Sequestration must end.
"It was kind of like when you go through your drawers and your pants pockets and you collect the dimes — you can't do that again," said Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., who helped the Justice Department scrape together its spare change. "The second year will be much more difficult."
To head that off, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who is the chairman of the House Budget Committee and will lead the talks for Republicans, said negotiators would have to think small.
"If we focus on doing something big, 'grand bargainesque,' we will fail," Ryan said in an interview. Instead, he said, talks "should aim for the achievable."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., expressed a similar view, telling Nevada Public Radio that any larger aspirations would be "happy talk." And the Obama administration has made clear that sequestration replacement is its highest priority in the talks.