It's been just over a month since the automatic federal spending cuts -- better known as "sequestration" -- kicked in. In that time, most public discussion has focused on the whether or not the spending cuts will actually make a difference. After all, skeptics have argued, the cuts "only" account for 0.5 percent of GDP. Their effect will be minor, these pundits have claimed, slicing less than 7 percent from the Pentagon, 2 percent from Medicare, and so on.
On those rare occasions in the last month when sequestration had an immediately noticeable effect -- when the White House canceled tours, for example, or when the National Park Service closed campgrounds -- critics have argued that these cuts were largely enacted for PR value, and that the federal government, if it wished, could actually have avoided them.
But the cuts are expanding, and, to paraphrase MTV's The Real World, this is where they stop being polite and start getting real. That 2 percent Medicare cut, for example, started to have a major effect last week when, as The Washington Post's Sarah Kliff noted, cancer clinics across the country had to turn away patients because they could no longer afford to give them medicine.
The Medicare problem was caused by a shortsight over which portion of the program was being cut. Medications are usually covered under Medicare Part D, which wasn't affected by sequestration cuts. Unfortunately, however, the cancer meds in question must be administered by a doctor, which puts them under Part B -- which was affected by sequestration.
For many cancer patients, the Medicare problem can be dealt with by getting their medications at hospitals rather than at smaller clinics. In a larger context, however, the Medicare cancer problem is a canary in a mine, an early indication of some of the looming problems that are likely to develop if sequestration remains in effect.
Other effects have started to creep up. Health care providers have been laid off around the country. So have teachers and child care workers. People who work for the military, even indirectly, are having to dust off their resumes, and the unemployment benefits that many are counting on are starting to dry up. And this only scratches the tip of the iceberg.
So, how has sequestration affected you? Have any of your local services had to cut back on hours or have you faced a furlough from your job because of government budget cuts? Are your schools facing a loss of funding or will your vacation be cut short because a National Park won't be open for as many hours? Or are you not feeling any effects at all?
If you have a sequestration story -- or, on the other hand, if you think the fuss over federal budget cuts has been overblown -- drop me a line, either by e-mail at email@example.com or in the comments section below.
Bruce Watson is a DailyFinance's Savings editor. You can reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.
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