Automatic government spending cuts could lead to longer lines at the airport and higher prices for meat at the dinner table.
Some $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts are due to kick in on Friday. As lawmakers and officials paint dire scenarios, here are some of the ways they say the cuts could affect you.
The nation's busiest airports could be forced to close some of their runways, causing widespread flight delays and cancellations.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood predicts that flights to cities like New York, Chicago and San Francisco could have delays of up to 90 minutes during peak hours because fewer controllers will be on duty, according to The Associated Press.
Furloughs of controllers wouldn't kick in until April because the Federal Aviation Administration is required by law to give its employees advance notice. In addition to furloughs, the FAA is planning to eliminate midnight shifts for air traffic controllers at 60 airport towers, close more than 100 control towers at smaller airports and reduce preventive maintenance of equipment.
By summer travel season, also expect longer wait times at airport security checkpoints. Transportation Security Administration chief John Pistole told lawmakers Wednesday the TSA would have to freeze hiring of airport security screeners and cut back on overtime.
"As the passenger traffic builds for spring and summer, that's where we'll see the greatest potential impact," he said.
Your family vacation to Yosemite, Grand Teton, Yellowstone and some of the nation's other popular destinations could become a little harder to plan. All 398 national parks are determining the specific impact of budget cuts on their operations, and some may have to reduce staff and hours at the peak of the summer tourist season.
At Yosemite and Yellowstone national parks, the opening of new roads and visitor service centers could be delayed. At Great Smoky Mountains National Park, five campgrounds could be closed. At Cape Cod, a visitor center could be shuttered.
Hospitals, doctors and other Medicare providers will see a 2 percent cut in government reimbursements, because once cutbacks take effect, Medicare will reimburse them at 98 cents on the dollar. But the pain could be a lot worse if President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans actually reach a sweeping agreement to reduce federal deficits. Automatic cuts taking effect Friday would reduce Medicare spending by about $100 billion over a decade. Obama had put on the table $400 billion in health care cuts, mainly from Medicare. And Republicans wanted more.
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IMMIGRATION AND BORDER SECURITY
The Department of Homeland Security has released hundreds of undocumented immigrants from jails across the country in anticipation of automatic budget cuts. The low-priority detainees still face deportation hearings but have been freed on supervised release while their cases continue in court. There's already a huge backlog of immigration cases waiting to be heard.
Also expect much longer lines at ports of entry for people and goods coming into the country. "People will start avoiding traveling to ports with lengthy periods of wait time, and the business community in that location is going to feel it — they will feel it pretty early," David Martin, former principal deputy general counsel for the Department of Homeland Security from 2009 to 2010, told The Washington Post.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has said her department would have to cut 5,000 border patrol agents if the cuts go through. Notification rules would mean the layoffs would not take effect until April 1.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture plans to furlough meat and poultry inspectors. That means some U.S. meat packers and processors might have to shut down for a while, since plants cannot operate without USDA inspectors. That in turn could lead to Americans having to pay higher prices for meat
The Obama administration has also warned that Americans could suffer more foodborne illnesses due to fewer food inspections.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan says the cuts will hurt teachers, young children in low-income families and students with special needs.
According to the White House, 70,000 kids could be eliminated from Head Start, 10,000 teachers could find themselves at risk of unemployment, and money to pay for thousands of special-education teachers, aides and staff could be eliminated, CBS News reports.
But The Washington Post says claims by Duncan that some teachers have already been given pink slips are not backed by evidence.
Millions of taxpayers may not be able get responses from Internal Revenue Service call centers and taxpayer assistance centers. The cuts could delay IRS responses to taxpayer letters and force the agency to complete fewer tax return reviews, reducing its ability to detect and prevent fraud. The IRS says this could result in billions of dollars in lost revenue to the government, complicating deficit reduction efforts. The good news is that the IRS says the cuts shouldn't delay tax refunds.
More than 3.8 million people jobless for six months or longer could see their unemployment benefits reduced by as much as 9.4 percent. Thousands of veterans would not receive job counseling. Fewer Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspectors could mean 1,200 fewer inspections of dangerous work sites.
Millions of fans the Navy's renowned flight demonstration squadron will likely miss out on the precision flying team's thrilling aerobatics shows this year. Blue Angels shows scheduled in more than two dozen cities between April and September are expected to be canceled as part of the cuts, according to the team's spokeswoman, Lt. Katie Kelly. Some shows featuring the Blue Angels already have been called off in the face of budget uncertainties.
Sources: Associated Press, Reuters, The Washington Post, CBS News, CNBC and MSN News research.
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