Spending cuts fact or fiction: The “half-truths” about tomorrow’s budget cuts

Rick Klein, Olivier Knox, Richard Coolidge, and Jordyn Phelps
Power Players

Top Line

With looming across-the-board budget cuts set to take effect tomorrow if Congress and the White House fail to reach a deal, there have been a lot of “apocalyptic” warnings coming from Washington. While the significance of the cuts should not be "belittled," fact-checker Bill Adair tells Top Line the truth has been twisted and exaggerated in this ongoing political drama.

Perhaps the most alarming warning about tomorrow's cuts, known as "the sequester," has come from President Obama, who has said that "federal prosecutors will have to close cases and let criminals go." Adair says that while the Justice Department will indeed have to cut back on prosecutions, dangerous criminals are not going to be wandering the streets starting tomorrow.

"From what we could tell, [it was] a vast exaggeration to equate that with letting criminals go, wording that really implies opening the prison doors and letting people stream out, and so that one got a mostly false on the truth-o-meter," says Adair, editor of the fact-checking project PolitiFact.

But Adair points out that the president has been mostly truthful about his broader claim that he doesn't have control over what will get chopped and won’t.

“There is little discretion over what is being cut and what's not, and he's right about that, and we've given that a mostly true on our truth-o-meter,” Adair says. “These are across the board cuts and the reason it didn't get a complete true is because there is some discretion that these agencies.”

Adair also points out that government agencies and state governments that will be affected by the sequester will have some flexibility in deciding what to cut from their respective budgets; and a lot of the cuts will be gradual, meaning there will be time to adjust and plan.

"Overall, I predict we'll wake up Friday morning and our houses will still be standing," Adair says in conclusion.

To hear more about what's truth and what's folly when it comes to sequestration, including what the fact-checkers at PolitiFact are investigating now, check out this week's Top Line.

ABC's Eric Wray, Alexandra Dukakis, Tom D'Annibale, and Bob Bramson contributed to this episode.