The problem with harsh budget cuts: most Americans like federal spending priorities

I’ll make a prediction.

On March 1, the relatively harsh cuts of the sequester will automatically go into effect. That will spark a huge outcry from citizens across the country who are most immediately affected: folks who live near major federal facilities, especially army bases. There won’t be any particular partisan split in those complaints — voters on the right and left will be equally alarmed. And they’ll make that alarm clear to their representatives in Washington, and then we’ll go through a messy process of adding spending back into the federal budget.

However much we talk about cutting big government in the abstract, Americans by pretty large margins oppose actual cuts to actual programs. Americans really don’t want significant cuts to entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare, which aren’t part of the sequester but have been repeatedly targeted by Republican talking points, and there’s huge support out there for other key federal functions, like maintaining the highway system and funding the national parks.

From the Washington Post’s National park advocates pressing Congress to prevent deep budget cuts:

Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis is reviewing detailed contingency plans he ordered every superintendent to submit last week. As talks get underway on Capitol Hill to resolve an impasse over how to reduce the deficit, federal agencies are kicking their austerity planning into high gear.

The prospect of dirtier restrooms, sporadic grass mowing and litter pickup, and a shortage of rangers to answer questions and patrol has set off a furious campaign by a coalition of park advocates, tourism officials and businesses from to Maine to Wyoming. […]

The Park Service’s dryly worded “Instructions for Sequestration Reduction Planning Template” calls for drastic measures if Congress does not avert the cuts.

“We expect that a cut of this magnitude, intensified by the lateness of the implementation, will result in reductions to visitor services, hours of operation, shortening of seasons and possibly the closing of areas during periods when there is insufficient staff to ensure the protection of visitors, employees, resources and government assets,” Jarvis wrote in a memo obtained by the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, which is working to rally the public against the cuts.

The memo instructs park officials to plan for furloughs and eliminate most of the 9,000 seasonal employees who staff most visitor operations.