No Harm, No Foul

(Updated Below)

Republicans in the House would like you to know that they haven’t really been hearing much about the sequester from their constituents.

From Roll Call this morning:

[W]hile the impacts are starting to appear in local media across the country, particularly near military bases, rank-and-file Republicans generally say they aren’t feeling much pressure yet, and they expect the sequester will simply stay in place.

“I think, generally speaking, people haven’t noticed,” said Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa, noting that the flap about canceled White House tours is one exception.

“I’m not hearing anything at home, really,” said Rep. John Campbell. The California Republican said he’s been asked about the sequester more by the press than constituents. He said he heard from one contractor who said, “You know, we may lose a contract over this, but we’ll survive.”

Campbell said Republicans going home for the Easter break are going to be focused instead on touting the GOP plan to balance the budget.

I’m not surprised that many House Republicans haven’t heard much from their constituents about the sequester. Republican members of the House (and only Republicans were interview for this story) often represent wealthier districts where, in fact, the sequester probably won’t have much of an impact.

But this does raise the question: During the upcoming House and Senate Easter recess (March 25th – April 5th), what will members (on either side of the aisle) hear about it? Do grassroots organizations have their folks prepared to meet with lawmakers during the break? Have folks back home just resigned themselves to the idea that the cuts are here to stay? Will stories that are “starting to appear” in the local media become more frequent?

There could be a lack of urgency about the sequester because many programs have not been affected yet. WIA Title II Adult education funding, for example, will not be cut until July 1st, because like many (but not all) education programs, it’s forward funded. So adult education programs aren’t going to see the effects until new grant awards are made over the summer. Plus, depending on how states decide to distribute the cut, I suppose some programs may not even see much of a decrease.

But it’s still important, I think, to speak up about the importance of federal support for adult education in our communities now, even if the sequester effects haven’t settled in yet. Remember also that sequestration is a multi-year process, and will work very differently next year. Instead of across-the-board cuts to every program, in 2014-2021 the cut will be in the form of overall budget caps. Congress and the administration will then have to figure out how to live within those reduced caps. In other words, after 2013, there are no automatic, proportional cuts to discretionary programs like adult education. It will be up to the President and Congress to decide how much to cut from each program. They could even eliminate funding altogether for some. (For those interested in the gory details, I recommend the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities latest paper on how this all works.)

I also continue to fear that over time, pressure on states to find money to shore up other places where the sequester is affecting their budgets is going to result in reduced state support for adult education, much in the way that California school districts have been snatching funds from adult education to support K-12. Which means that this is also an important time to let state lawmakers know how important adult education is in your community.

The media pays a lot of attention to the political wrangling between the administration and Congress over making some kind of deal to roll back the sequester, but without strong constituent pressure—and soon—I can’t figure out why we should expect that anything will actually be done.

Update: More on the same theme, from Brian Beutler at TPM:

It’s been nearly three weeks since President Obama issued the sequestration order. Across the country, newspapers carry reports of furloughs, airport closings, children kicked out of Head Start. The consequences are beginning to snowball. But lawmakers have reacted to the bad news with a collective shrug.

In the same week Congress is expected to pass government funding legislation that effectively locks in sequestration until the end of September, an unexpected reality is dawning on Washington: as bad as sequestration is, and was intended to be, it’s not bad enough to do what it was designed to do.

That’s left Democrats resigned to malfunctioning and underfunded government in perpetuity, and Republicans confident they can weather the coming months and turn sequestration spending levels into a new normal. (my emphasis)