April 29, 2013; TIME Magazine

It looks like the cuts from the sequestration are starting to come into play. Because they applied to the entire 2013 fiscal year, some federal agencies timed them so that they would hit later in the calendar on the assumption, perhaps shared or even pushed by the White House, that Congress would eventually come to its senses and back off the insanity of across-the-board cuts. A fix here for Department of Agriculture meat inspectors, a fix there for FAA air traffic controllers, but the sequester is still there.

The toll is becoming clearer. At the Department of Education, assistance for school districts near military bases and tribal lands, meant to make up for the lack of taxable properties there, will be cut by $60 million. College students getting money through on-campus work-study jobs will see that program cut by $51 million; $28 million will be cut from the Department’s “Race to the Top” competition, and other slashes will occur in programs for student counseling, school safety, charter schools, magnet schools, and even English language training.

Vincent Faris, the chairman of Meals on Wheels, the program that provides hot meals to many homebound elderly and infirm clients, told Chris Matthews on MSNBC that the sequester will mean that the organization delivers four million fewer meals this year. Meals on Wheels is only one of dozens of sequestered programs with impacts on the local level. The expectations are that, in Wisconsin, 1,000 children will lose access to Head Start programs, $10.1 million will be cut from programs that provide teachers and teachers’ aides to help children with disabilities, and 23,000 fewer people will get employment assistance.

TIME quoted Education Secretary Arne Duncan to say, “Budgets are never just numbers. They reveal our values. They reveal our value choices.” There’s no question that Duncan was spot-on on that score, but that takes us to the point that we have made about the nation’s response to the sequester. When it disadvantages the business sector and the affluent, as with the potential of flight delays due to furloughs of air-traffic controllers, Congress hops to it and the White House signs on. But where is the urgency to restore the Meals on Wheels assistance for the homebound elderly or the thousands of Head Start slots for poor children? The nation’s response to the sequester is a truly damning statement of this nation’s values and value choices.—Rick Cohen