Cost Of Sequestration: 700,000 Jobs May Be Lost From Across-The-Board Budget Cuts Through 2014, GDP Growth May Slow: Report

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February 20, 2013 4:41 AM PST

Across-the-board cuts to discretionary spending programmed to automatically kick in on March 1 if Congress and President Obama don't agree on how to avoid the cuts would create headwinds for growth through next year, according to Macroeconomic Advisers, LLC.

The St. Louis-based economic analysis firm estimates that unemployment will shrink from the current 7.90 percent to 7.4 percent by the end of 2014, but that the budget cuts as they stand would shave a quarter percent off that growth as government spending – including for private sector contracts and military personnel – would be curtailed.

The cuts would also cause a 0.6 percent reduction to total gross domestic product (GDP) growth this year, to 2 percent. The largest impact, according to the report, would be in the second quarter of this year. If the forecast turns out to be accurate, sequestration would push GDP growth lower than it was last year when GDP growth was 2.2 percent, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

“The macroeconomic impact of the sequestration is not catastrophic,” said the forecast published on Tuesday. “Nevertheless, the indiscriminate fiscal restraint would come on the heels of tax increases in the first quarter that total nearly $200 billion, with the economy still struggling to overcome the legacy of the Great Recession.”

But slower economic growth could force the Fed to keep interest rates lower for a longer period of time, in which case GDP growth in 2014 would be supported slightly by the effects of sequestration.

The study suggests that a preferable policy would be to implement a long-term deficit reduction plan that combined revenue increases through tax hikes and more carefully considered cuts to discretionary spending. It also suggests fundamental reform to entitlement programs.

The U.S. hit its debt ceiling on Dec. 31. The Treasury has implemented temporary policies to continue paying its bills. On March 1, Congress and the White House must either raise the debt ceiling or adopt some other strategy involving a reduction to spending and an increase in revenue or the government risks defaulting on some of its financial commitments. While a sovereign debt default is unlikely, the U.S. government could default on private sector contracts unless something is done.

On Tuesday, President Obama warned that unless Republicans come up with an alternative plan, sequestration would result in job losses. Meanwhile, Erksine Bowles, who was a chief of staff under President Bill Clinton, and former Wyoming Republican Sen. Alan Simpson unveiled their latest plan to cut the deficit by $2.4 trillion over the next decade.

But Bowles said Congress isn’t likely to getting anything of consequence done in the next eight days to avert sequestration—at least not until Americans and lawmakers themselves begin to feel the effects.

"When you guys have to go out here to Reagan Airport (in Washington D.C.) and you have to wait three hours to go through airport security, you are going to be pissed, and so is everyone else," Bowles said, according to CBS News, referring to steep cuts expected to airline services provided by the Transportation Security Administration.

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