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Time’s up: $85B in cuts on the way

J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press

Many congressmen weren’t around Friday as the sequestration deadline passed, but House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio was. He arrives on Capitol Hill after a meeting at the White House between President Barack Obama and congressional leaders.

By Stefanie Dazio
Herald Staff Writer

WASHINGTON – A red-jacketed guide herded wide-eyed tourists through the Capitol’s hallowed halls Friday, patiently waiting as the out-of-towners paused every few feet for a photo of a hometown hero’s statue.

As if March 1 was just another day in the nation’s capital.

Even as the landmark Ohio Clock counted down to the start of sequestration – $85 billion in automatic, across-the-board spending cuts to be slashed this fiscal year alone – the Capitol hummed with activity.

Without the presence of most of its reigning population.

Both the Senate and the House are out of session for the weekend. The Senate will reconvene Monday, the House on Tuesday.

Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., was not on the Hill on Friday, and Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., and U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, were headed back to the Centennial State for the weekend, said staff members.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., held a brief news conference near Oklahoman Will Rogers’ sculpture, speaking softly to reporters about the sequester after her trip to the White House.

She called some of the cuts “ridiculous” as children shrieked in the hall behind her.

“I’m optimistic that something can be done,” she said.

But it might be too late.

The sequester was first passed through the Budget Control Act of 2011. It was intended to force the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction to come together to cut $1.5 trillion from the federal budget throughout 10 years.

If the committee didn’t do that by its deadline – later pushed to March 1, 2013 – severe, across-the-board, automatic cuts would begin. With the cuts so painful to both domestic and defense programs, the committee would have to act.

But March 1 has come and gone, and the first of the cuts will roll out in the next few weeks.

In Colorado, $90 million could be cut from nondefense programs this fiscal year, The Durango Herald previously reported. The state also could see an $810 million economic impact from defense-related cuts this fiscal year.

Local organizations were waiting to see how they might be affected this week, with little word from federal or state officials to guide them.

But in Washington, despite relatively empty halls and no official action on the agenda, it was business as usual Friday in the Capitol.

Visitors flocked to the newly installed Rosa Parks statue in Statuary Hall, staring up at the life-sized civil-rights icon and snapping pictures of her for Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Reporters held whispered conversations with one another, clutching cellphones, recorders and notebooks, as they staked out different entrances and exits to the marble maze, hoping to corral any lawmaker who might still be in the dome.

Staff members straightened up the Senate’s chambers, pushing chairs and pulling drawers, to ready the room for Monday.

But the pages – high school students who work as messengers for Congress – seemed among the most relaxed in the whole Capitol.

A few sprawled out on the chambers’ carpeted floor Friday morning, surrounded by planners, textbooks and calculators. They chatted and caught up on homework as the clock ticked closer to the cuts.

For them, it was just another day in the dome.

Stefanie Dazio is a student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern for The Durango Herald. You can reach her at sdazio@durangoherald.com.

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