Sequestration: What You Need to Know

Tags: Politics, Debt Ceiling, Sequestration, Democrats, Republicans, Fiscal Cliff, Marjorie McAtee

Marjorie McAtee by Marjorie McAtee

President Barack Obama talks with Congressional leaders

On Friday, March 1, a round of severe budget cuts, known as a sequestration, is scheduled to go into effect. These cuts, totaling $1.2 trillion over the next ten years and $85 billion for 2013 alone, will take money from defense, education, public parks, transportation and programs for low-income students, women and children. Projections from the Bipartisan Policy Center suggest that this strict tightening of the fiscal belt could affect everyone who works or buys things.

What is sequestration?

Sequestration is Washington’s response to the 2011 debt ceiling standoff. That showdown led to a compromise between Congressional Republicans and the Obama administration, in which they agreed to $2 trillion in budget cuts in exchange for raising the debt ceiling by $2.1 trillion and saving the U.S. from going into default to its creditors. Half of that $2 trillion cut was outlined in the Budget Control Act of 2011, which authorizes sequestration in the form of cuts to defense and domestic spending. The sequestration was supposed to take effect January 1, but Congress postponed it until March 1 when they failed to come up with a budget last year.

Neither side was really happy with the compromise. No one likes the prospect of the draconian budget cuts that are set to take effect on March 1 if Congress doesn’t hammer out a new budget plan soon. The whole point of the sequestration was to implement a series of budget cuts so harmful that Congress would have no choice but to finalize a more thoughtful plan to bring about the $4 trillion in total cuts needed to restore the national economy.

Who will sequestration affect?

If Congress doesn’t take action by Friday, 750,000 people could lose their jobs by the end of the year. Eight hundred thousand civilian employees of the Pentagon face unpaid leave. Military veterans, active service members and their families face healthcare shortages. Ten thousand teachers and 7,200 aides, staff and special education teachers could lose their jobs nationwide.

Public parks across the nation, like Yosemite National Park and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, will be closing campgrounds, shutting down visitor centers and slashing basic services, like trash pick-up, on the grounds. As many as 70,000 low-income children could lose access to preschool through the Head Start program and up to 600,000 women and children could lose access to nutritional aid through the Women, Infants and Children program. And that’s just scratching the surface – cuts to transportation could lead to significant delays at airports across the country; low-income college students could lose access to funding and work study programs; medical research, mental illness treatment, law enforcement, border patrol, food safety and more could suffer.

So, is this the end of the world?

While sequestration does sound pretty scary, experts warn that it probably won’t last long. The effects of these budget cuts are so harmful to Americans that Congress is expected to come up with a budget plan soon, before sequestration can do too much damage to an already fragile American economy.

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