This week, the news in the United States will be dominated by the Friday, March 1 deadline for the so-called "sequester" to take effect, triggering $85 billion in across-the-board budget cuts in 2013. Whatever the outcome of the political theatrics in advance of the deadline, the sequester crisis marks a new stage in the ruling class assault on the social conditions of working people in America.
The budget sequestration was to take effect January 1 of this year, but was postponed until March 1 as part of the bipartisan deal to head off the so-called "fiscal cliff" combination of tax increases, cuts in jobless benefits and other measures. The crisis surrounding the March 1 deadline is entirely contrived, the result of the 2011 deal between the White House and congressional Republicans to raise the US debt ceiling.
If the White House and Congress fail to agree on a deficit-cutting plan before March 1, which appears likely, the cuts unleashed by the sequester will have a devastating impact on social programs and services at the federal, state and local levels, including education, housing, home heating assistance, health care, nutritional assistance, road repair and air transport. Cuts in both civilian and military budgets will result in hundreds of thousands of furloughs and layoffs of public-sector workers.
At the same time, the sequester threat is being used to intensify the drive for unprecedented cuts and structural changes in the basic social entitlement programs dating from the 1930s and 1960s, particularly Social Security and Medicare.