President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner might be struggling with their sequestration messages, but mayors and city council members know what they're talking about.
With $85 billion in spending cuts trickling down this year to city halls from Dothan, Ala., to Fargo, N.D., the local horror stories are piling up in the form of delayed commercial ventures, longer airport waits and dried-up accounts for transportation and sewer projects.
Municipal officials who weathered the Great Recession by tightening their own budgets are lobbying Congress this week to fix its mess. They're also networking in Washington with neighboring cities and states on strategies to help pay for everyday necessities like school lunches and sidewalk pavements and emergencies like sandbags to stop river floods.
Critt Snellgrove, a first-term city commissioner from Dothan, told POLITICO during his visit to Washington this week for a League of Cities conference that an aerospace company delayed plans to relocate its headquarters to his area.
"We're probably looking at 500 jobs, just all of a sudden, bam, everyone's on hold," Snellgrove said. "That's sequestration, whatever you called it. It killed us. It hurt us bad."
Republican Gov. Robert Bentley and other top state and local leaders were planning to attend a ribbon-cutting event to trumpet the company's news and the addition of a $25 million payroll to boost the economy.
But the company, which Snellgrove and other state and local officials wouldn't name because of a confidentiality agreement, pulled back the day before the announcement, explaining that it couldn't proceed while the cash-strapped Federal Aviation Administration was considering closing the local air traffic control tower. That would hurt the company's ability to work with customers in Central and South America.
Obama, under fire for overhyping sequestration, is looking for more stories like Snellgrove's.
On Tuesday, the president's post-election group Organizing for America sent an email to supporters urging them to share their sequestration stories. Administration officials also are opening their inboxes.
"This is going to shock you, people in Washington don't know everything," Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey told the League of Cities conference on Monday. "There are going to be things that we don't see at this level that will affect your communities."
Dempsey said he's been encouraging military members and families "to stay in touch with each other so we actually understand the effect."
Melissa Sobolik, a Fargo, N.D., city commissioner elected last summer, said she felt the effects of sequestration during the first leg of her flight to Washington. Before taking off for her connection in Minneapolis, flight attendants said there was a 20-minute delay because of the budget cuts that led to a shortage of Transportation Security Administration employees. Passengers were urged to write to their members of Congress.
"We are talking about it when those types of things happen," Sobolik said, adding that absent sufficient federal emergency funds, Fargo may need local governments, Minnesota and North Dakota, which has a $1 billion surplus from a boom in oil and gas drilling, to help prepare for the spring rise of the Red River.
Sobolik, who also has a full-time job at the Great Plains Food Bank, said the federal spending cuts have school board officials and nonprofits concerned that funding will dry up on school lunches and after-school programs.
"I think the impact is going to hit us. And it's going to hit us hard," she said.
Karen Freeman-Wilson, the mayor of Gary, Ind., said she expects there will be less federal money from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to help with demolition projects and fewer funds from the Environmental Protection Agency to work on wastewater infrastructure.