Stateside: What does the 'sequester' really mean for Michigan?

Feb 25, 2013

The following is a summary of a previously recorded interview. To hear the complete segment, click the audio above.

The term "sequester" is being tossed around all over the news and in Washington D.C. this week, but what does that mean for Michigan?

And what does that say about the health of American politics?

"I don't think there's any big solution to this any time soon," said Todd Spangler, Washington correspondent for the Detroit Free Press.

"From a political standpoint, it's hard to read the tea leaves on this. Clearly, Obama has a higher approval rating from the public than Congress does. There's been some polls that show that his suggestion of balancing some cuts with increased revenues is more favorable to people than just the idea of putting these cuts into place."

But Spangler said that the real source of friction between house Democrats and Republicans will ultimately determine any sort of solution.

"Democrats are saying 'no, we need more in tax revenue on the wealthy' and Republicans are saying 'no, we've done that already, you need to come over to our side on spending cuts," he said.

Though Michigan isn't a particularly defense heavy state, the White House does acknowledge that some 10,000 defense jobs in Michigan could be impacted by defense cuts.

"In particular areas around Harrison township and Macomb county, [defense cuts] could be felt rather strongly," Spangler said.

"There are a lot of civilian workers around the Detroit arsenal that will feel a one-day-a-week furlough that would equate to a 20 percent pay cut. I know some people say this is small but if you see 10,000 people a week working one day less a week, they're going to feel it."

According to Spangler, budget cuts to domestic programs will hit some of the most vulnerable areas of Michigan.

"You're looking at $20 million with Title I funds for children with disabilities being cut – that could affect 240 or 250 teachers and aides who help kids with disabilities. With Head Start, you're looking at a $27 million cut which could affect 2,300 kids who get these services."

Michigan residents who currently depend on long term unemployment benefits will also feel the effects of the sequester.

"We're not exactly sure how that will play out but it will cut those checks. There are 77,000 people in Michigan getting that, and that will be cut by 9 percent."

Though supporters of spending cuts argue that any cuts made won't be felt by citizens on a day-to-day basis, Spangler said this isn't the case. 

"If you're going to close FAA control towers or close parks or furlough customs and border patrol agents, that will have an actual effect. There may be fat in the government but there's not so much that you can reduce by those kinds of numbers and not have someone feel it somewhere."

Among Michigan lawmakers who have played a role on the "supercommittee," a committee invented to reach an agreement that would prevent the nation from defaulting on its bills, is Midland Republican Dave Camp and St. Joseph Republican Fred Upton. They are part of a team of six Democrats and six Republicans who were selected to find an economic compromise and move Congress forward in a bipartisan manner.

"In the end, despite efforts to reach an agreement, they [the supercommittee] couldn't do it," Spangler said.

Spangler noted that though these rifts are highlighted in Washington, these differences translate to those among the American people.

"There's a very real argument going on between the people in Washington and the people here about what the government going forward is going to took like," he said.

Yet these arguments, Spangler said, aren't new.

"There's no period in government where there wasn't one side wanting something that they weren't going to get unless they were willing to give something else up to get it. This is more of the same. It may be more pronounced but even when you go back a few years to the Bush tax cuts, they wouldn't have passed if they didn't have a deadline on them."

Ultimately, "sequester" is a term that will bring up a complex argument for both sides.

"These are tough decisions," Spangler said. "I think that's going to continue for a while."

- Lucy Perkins, Michigan Radio Newsroom