WASHINGTON — With billions of dollars worth of mandatory federal spending cuts just weeks away, congressional offices have begun to brace themselves for painful cuts to their budgets in case their bosses can't get a deal done to avert them.
The so-called "sequester" set to take effect March 1 will affect nearly all reaches of the federal government, including the legislative branch — and, although lawmakers of both parties have opposed the nondiscriminatory cuts, most have begun to concede that they will likely be allowed to take effect.
Now, congressional offices have begun to plan for that contingency.
"We are in a holding pattern budget-wise because of the sequester," a House Democratic aide emailed. The aide added, "I'm sure that we are taking the cautionary steps that most offices are taking now."
Those steps include canceling or reevaluating contracts with outside vendors for direct mail, tele-town halls, website maintenance and other contracts; canceling or putting off subscriptions to publications such as CQ/Roll Call; and making tough personnel decisions.
"We've halted hiring," another House Democratic aide said. "Outgoing people are not getting replaced, so we're pretty staff-starved."
An aide to a Republican senator also confirmed that the senator had "delayed some hiring decisions while we wait to see outcome" of the sequester.
With two weeks remaining until the mandatory spending cuts occur, lawmakers could still theoretically approve a compromise package to replace the sequester — but most people on the Hill are cynical about such an outcome coming to fruition.
"We're prepared for the worst," said a House Republican staffer. "We're definitely having to scale back."