If you’ve been listening to all of this “sequester” talk and still aren’t exactly sure what is going on, then you’re not alone. Washington has been using the friendlier word of “sequester” to refer to a package of automatic spending cuts set to slash funding for government agencies. The sequester drama began to unfold during the debt crisis of 2011, when Republicans demanded that serious budget cuts be included in legislation that raised the debt ceiling. Congress was tasked with finding ways to implement the $1.2 trillion in cuts, to be spread across a nine-year period, but partisan gridlock has kept Washington from coming to such an agreement. Therefore, unless politicians can cut a deal at some point today, the first $85 billion of these automatic cuts will go into effect across the board at 11:59 P.M.
Almost all government programs would feel the sequester’s effects, but hardest hit would be the military, which would see $550 million pulled from its funding. Programs in health care, law enforcement, education, unemployment benefits, disaster relief, scientific research, and more would also be cut drastically. State programs that rely on federal funds would have to prepare to receive less, and many government employees would lose their jobs.
The sequester fallout would not spare young Americans. College students in particular have much at stake. If the sequester hits, grants for as many as 1.4 million students enrolled in higher education institutions could shrink. In addition, 680,000 students enrolled in Federal Work Study programs might see their hours or wages shrink. Automatic spending cuts also threaten to cut employment services and job training programs, particularly for disadvantaged youth.
While the Obama administration continues to warn of the sequester’s detrimental effects, Republicans insist the cuts will not be so bad, as they make up only 2.5 percent of total government spending. With the end of the day fast approaching, politicians continue to make no progress on reaching an agreement. It seems likeliest that the sequester will hit, and Americans will have to find out for themselves just how harmful its effects might be.