Sequester? What's that??? and Why Should You Care?

Fasten your seatbelts, folks. A series of across-the-board spending cuts could kick in Friday, and they could impact you!

Even if you don’t consider yourself a news junkie, you’ve likely heard talk coming from Washington about the impending “sequester” scheduled to go into effect Friday, March 1st and probably have wondered what it all means. Even before we get to what it is and how it could impact you, let’s just say at the outset a sequester wouldn’t be good for any of us and that’s one of the rare things Democrats and Republicans might actually agree on these days.

First, What Does It Mean?

The sequester sounds like Washington jargon but it refers to a very real thing – a series of automatic across-the-board spending cuts totaling $85 billion over the next seven months that would go into effect this Friday unless President Obama and the GOP-controlled Congress come up with a long-term deficit reduction plan. The cuts are so severe – and would impact everything from the amount of time you wait at the airport to the number of FBI agents checking on national security threats to how many children can attend Head Start – that no one ever expected the sequester would actually happen. The thinking, based on the 2011 budget deal, is that it would be such a serious consequence that it would force Democrats and Republicans to compromise on a long-term plan that deals with our ballooning federal debt.

But now, we’re four days away and there is no sign of an agreement so time to understand what this could mean for you.

How Could a Sequester Affect You?

Sadly, some of the lowest income women would be most affected, according to numbers from the progressive group, the Center for American Progress, and the White House’s Office of Management and Budget. 600,000 women and children who receive access to food and health care from the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) supplemental nutrition program would no longer get that aid. Approximately 70,000 preschoolers wouldn’t be able to attend Head Start, and that means, in many of the cases, their mothers might have to give up their paychecks if they can’t find child care and go to work. 10,000 teachers could lose their jobs nationwide, and because of cuts to mental health care services, an estimated 373,000 mentally ill adults and emotionally disturbed children could go untreated.

If you are traveling, you could face flight delays with wait times that could increase by 30 to 50 percent at airports, as all of the FAA’s 47,000 employees would face a day off without pay every two weeks. The White House warns wait times at some of the busiest airports like New York's JFK, LAX and Chicago’s O’Hare could increase to over four hours or more.

The FBI would lose the support of more than 1,000 federal agents. There would be 2,100 fewer food inspections, and 31,000 fewer cancer screenings for women. Many of the 398 national parks would be partially or fully closed.

Big picture – the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that as many as 750,000 jobs could be lost. This means fewer dollars pumping into an already struggling economy, which could mean less economic growth and higher unemployment, which hurt everyone.

Is Everything On the Table?

The answer is no. Programs such as Social Security, Medicaid, Pell grants for college loans and veterans' benefits are exempt from the sequester, so is spending for the war in Afghanistan.

Will the Sequester Happen?

It’s impossible to say. What we do know is both sides stand to lose if those automatic cuts go into effect, but polls indicate the GOP Congress has more to lose than the president. According to a recent Pew Poll, 49% of those polled said they would blame the Congress for the sequester, while 31% would blame the president. It’s important to note that even if the sequester does take effect, not all cuts would be felt right away. Some would be spread out over the seven month period. Also, if the president and the Congress worked out a deal shortly after March 1st, the impact would likely be fairly small.

But still is this any way for our economy to grow with these constant logjams in Washington, and with businesses and consumers wondering where we’ll be as a country and as an economy by the end of the week? The answer is no and the time has really come for both sides to stop moving from crisis to crisis and get something done.

We want to hear from you! How worried are you about the sequester -- now that you know what it's all about! What could it mean for your and your family? Who would you blame if we have one? Chime in below and your comments may be used during a segment on MSNBC's Jansing & Co. show this Wednesday.

Kelly Wallace, a former White House correspondent for CNN, is chief correspondent of iVillage. You can follow Kelly on Twitter (@kellywallacetv).

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