Trucks carrying beef, pork and chicken from major meat processors line up daily at B&D Foods in Boise, where the food is turned into finger steaks, boneless chicken wings and pork strips.
B&D employs 150 people, all of whom depend on inspectors from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, who work in the plant daily. They listened closely when Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said "meat ax" budget cuts scheduled to go into effect March 1 will force furloughs, cutting inspectors' hours and reducing their numbers.
"We couldn't do anything without an inspector," said David Durkin, B&D vice president. "In a company like ours, the pipeline is full. It would be a complete fiasco."
Sequestration cuts of $85 billion this year and $1.2 trillion over the decade were approved by Congress in 2011 and were intended to be unacceptably blunt, thereby encouraging national leaders to negotiate carefully planned cuts.
But with a bipartisan committee unable to act, and with the president and Congress unable to reach agreements, federal agencies are preparing for cuts of 5 percent or more to programs - reductions that Idaho Republican Rep. Mike Simpson described last week as "stupid and painful."
Leaders could still cut a deal, but Simpson and the rest of Idaho's congressional delegation predict that won't happen until after the cuts go into effect Friday.
AIRPORTS, PARKS, CAMPGROUNDS
Without action, disruptions like what Durkin is fearing could happen.
For Idahoans, it could mean longer lines at airport security, later openings of national parks, closed campgrounds, unplowed snowmobile and ski trails on federal land, and reduced spending by the 9,000 federal employees who live in Southwest Idaho.
"It has a big domino effect," said Robynn Brown, manager of the Combined Federal Campaign, which raises money for nonprofit charities from federal employees.
Consider this, though: The cuts might be painful now, but they are nothing like what the nation can expect if Congress does make the $4 trillion in deficit reductions necessary over the next decade to stave off insolvency, said U.S. Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho.
"This is a drop in the bucket compared to what's coming," he said.
DETAILS STILL SKETCHY
The specifics still are not public. Cabinet members have released general statements about the effects of sequestration, suggesting widespread use of furloughs to offset cuts since half of the budget year is already over.
Some agencies, such as the U.S. Forest Service, will delay or defer hiring seasonal employees who clear trails, fight fires and plant trees. They also might shift employees to higher-priority programs, chief Tom Tidwell said in a letter to employees obtained by the Idaho Statesman.
The Coalition of National Park Service Retirees released information it received saying that Yellowstone National Park would delay spring road-opening operations. Grand Teton would close the Jenny Lake Visitor Center and other areas.
Cuts at the Bureau of Land Management could mean not only fewer services but also even less revenue, since the agency returns more money to the federal government than it spends. The BLM estimates that it will issue 300 fewer onshore oil-and-gas leases, delaying production and royalty payments to the Treasury, said spokesman Jeff Krauss.
The BLM also would delay coal leasing, which it predicts could affect as much as $60 million in royalty payments to the government. Idaho doesn't have oil or coal leases, but gets about $25 million in payments - in lieu of property taxes from federal lands - from the federal government that could end.
Those payments are critical to local governments, especially in rural Idaho, where some counties are more than 90 percent federal land. Idaho's state government also depends on federal funds for many programs, and lawmakers are awaiting details to determine whether they have to rework their budget.
A spokesman at the National Interagency Fire Center had no specifics to share. A 5 percent cut in fire-management funds would mean a cut of more than $130 million for the U.S. Forest Service alone.
Last year, federal firefighters spent more than $195 million fighting blazes in Idaho.
INL, MILITARY BASES
The Department of Defense predicted that furloughs and other contract cutbacks would result in a net loss of $7.3 million for Idaho. In a separate document obtained by McClatchy Newspapers, the Army predicted a net drop of 50 employees from furloughs and contractors not being hired, and $12 million in overall cuts in Idaho.
The Air National Guard would take the largest hit, about $11 million, with the Orchard Training Range southwest of Boise sustaining the rest. The document said $5 million of the cuts would come in canceled construction projects.
Likely no place in the state would be hit harder than Mountain Home Air Force Base, where 4,410 military and civilian personnel work. Air Force public affairs staffers did not return telephone calls Friday.
The Air Force estimated the Idaho economic impact of the Mountain Home base at just more than $1 billion annually in 2010.
The other major federal economic center in Idaho is the Idaho National Laboratory, which had more than 8,000 people working directly for the government or its contractors in 2010. But its main contractors have been shedding staff for a year and INL just recently announced that 100 employees had accepted early retirement.
In a letter earlier this month to the Senate Appropriations Committee, Energy Secretary Steven Chu included Idaho clean-up programs as something the budget cuts would affect.
"Funding reductions would put numerous enforceable environmental milestones at risk," he wrote.
NO BIG DEAL?
Risch said that although the cuts will be painful, he expects the Obama administration to put the worst face possible on them for political reasons.
"I have no doubt the administration is going to make it as difficult as possible," he said.
Economist Peter Crabb of Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa shares Risch's view and cautions people from overreacting to the possible cuts.
"I don't think anyone with any degree of confidence can predict what effect it will have on the economy nationally or locally," Crabb said.
If the economy is growing for other reasons, the federal budget cuts might not even be felt. Or, Crabb said, deficit reduction might be viewed as a reason for Americans to once again invest the cash they've been saving.
"I'm actually becoming more optimistic," Crabb said. "Let's try this and see if this does spur a little more confidence in our economy."
B&D Foods' Durkin would be more confident if Congress took action that would keep federal inspectors in his plant. With delivered meat having a five- to 14-day shelf life, the company does not have a great margin for error.
"We're just hoping they act," Durkin said.
Rocky Barker: 377-6484