For most of the past two months, politicians and pundits have predicted that, like the government's previous artificial fiscal disasters, sequestration was going to be resolved at the last minute. But "hope" isn't all that effective a strategy when one is hurtling toward the abyss, and it looks like sequestration might actually happen after all. While Republicans in Congress are rushing to shift blame for the fiscally suicidal plan onto President Obama, and congressional Democrats unable to attract any GOP moderates toward a compromise, the massive budget cuts that we've been dreading are about to arrive.
There's a bright side, sort of: The $1.2 trillion that is scheduled to get hacked out of the federal budget over the next decade would, in a simple world, go a long way toward cutting the deficit. The trouble is, we don't live in a simple world, and using a sweeping policy like sequestration to attack a comparatively minor problem like the deficit is sort of like amputating an arm to fix a hangnail. The cuts would ripple across the economy, slashing federal programs, putting people out of work and quite possibly sending the economy tumbling back into recession -- which would shrink tax revenues, and make our deficits larger, not smaller.
Even if we dodged a recession, shrinking consumer spending, paired with rising unemployment would still translate into reduced tax revenue. At the same time, we'll be paying out more money for social programs to cover people who aren't able to support themselves because their government-funded or -supported jobs have disappeared. In other words, we'll be right back where we are right now, borrowing money to cover the vital expenses of running the nation.
And if the rating agencies cut our credit rating in light of Congress' apparent desire to to cut the legs out from under an economy in the midst of a slow recovery, borrowing that money could get more costly too.
As numerous pundits have already pointed out, the sequester will be especially tough on anyone employed by the federal government. In other words, you might want to batten down the hatches if you work for a government agency, the military, a military contractor, or anyone with a federal government contract. For that matter, you might want to dust off your résumé if you work for a fast food joint that serves a lot of military personnel, a store that sells coffee to people who work for public schools, or any other company within two or three degrees of separation from anyone who relies on federal money.
But even if you don't work for the CDC, or run a Jiffy Lube across the street from a military base, you still need to be prepared for sequestration. After all, many of those government employees who will be looking for work are currently doing jobs that matter to you. Here's a look at nine unexpected ways that sequestration will probably touch your life:
9 Ways the Sequester Will Affect You
If you have a child in public school, watch out: $406 million is scheduled to get axed from the Head Start budget, which means that 70,000 kids will be kicked out of the program. Another $840 million is going to get pulled out of special education programs, and the White House estimates that another 10,000 teachers' jobs will be put at risk.
If you're planning to fly anywhere, be sure to pack an extra paperback: The TSA's airport security budget will be cut by $323 million, which means that your already-long check-in line will get even longer. And, while we're at it, it looks like there will be about 10 percent fewer air traffic controllers on the job, which is sure to slow things down even more.
Remember the floods and hurricanes that have devastated large swathes of the country over the past few years? Remember all the complaints we heard (and made) about FEMA's sluggish response to those disasters? Well, get ready for more of the same: Sequestration is going to cut $375 million from FEMA's disaster relief budget.
If you like meat -- or any food, really -- now might be a good time to stock up. The food inspectors who make sure your ground beef isn't ground horse and your chicken isn't a petri dish of harmful bacteria are about to be furloughed. Even non-carnivores are facing bad news: After a $206 million cut to its budget, the FDA will have to cut back on most of its food inspection programs.
Sequestration won't be bad news for everyone: If you're a criminal, it might be cause to celebrate. After all, with $355 million being cut from prison funding, convicts could be out on the street sooner than they expected. And, with $480 million being cut from the FBI's budget, if you've committed a crime recently, you might not need to worry as much about covering your tracks.
If you're a virus, things are looking up for you and your relatives, too. The National Institutes of Health are losing $1.6 billion and the Centers for Disease Control will say goodbye to $323 million. From research to public health programs, this will translate into a real downgrade to our nation's health care backbone.
Unfortunately, things won't be great if you want to take a vacation: With $110 million being cut from the National Park Service budget, many park services will be cut back or closed. In other words, if you're one of the 250,000 people who were planning to visit the Grand Canyon this year, you should prepare for a delayed opening and reduced options.
While not all federal student aid programs will take a hit in 2013, sequestration is on track to make things tough for low-income college students. The Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant program, which can give a needy student up to $4,000 a year, will likely be cut by 8.2 percent, as will federal work study programs. And for students who want to borrow money, student loan origination fees will also go up.
Here's a silver lining to sequestration: It will be educational. For years, this nation has been in the midst of an argument about what role the federal government has and should have in our daily lives. For anyone who has wondered what the government really does for them, the next few months will be an outstanding lesson in where, exactly, your tax money goes.