President Obama and congressional Republicans have been trading blame for the failure to avoid automatic budget cuts known as sequestration, but once the reductions start to take effect, both sides could face blowback.
Here are four areas where cuts are the most politically sensitive.
1) Traveling: From Airports to National Parks
Americans planning to travel in the next year should prepare for longer lines and flight delays, as some of the sequestration cuts will hit the air travel system. This is happening because Transportation Security Administration screeners and Federal Aviation Administration air traffic control operators will be put on unpaid leave, called furloughs, to meet hundreds of millions of dollars in budget cuts.
Tourists visiting national parks will also see the impact of these cuts. To reduce its budget by $110 million, the National Park Service will close certain parks at times, or open just parts of some parks. If someone gets lost in the wilderness, rescue missions could become longer because of fewer park rangers, as well.
2) Public Safety: From Food Inspection to Border Security
Most public-safety operations are invisible to most consumers, who buy products such as meat and milk at the supermarket without much thought. But the Obama administration has warned that cuts will mean fewer inspections for meat, milk, and poultry products. If an outbreak of E. coli or some other contamination occurs, or if there’s less meat or milk available at the store, this could become a big issue, warned Stan Collender, a budget expert at Qorvis Communications.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection employees are also expected to be placed on furloughs for 12 to 14 days, while 5,000 border-patrol agents and 2,750 customs officers will get cut. Earlier this week, hundreds of detained illegal immigrants were released from custody due to budget concerns in some areas.
“Those kinds of activities are very high profile,” said Mackenzie Eaglen, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Initiative. “They capture the attention of the American people.”
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano warned that border security could be weakened because of the reduction in her department’s funding.
3) Education: From Head Start to Teachers
Education Secretary Arne Duncan said that $406 million will have to get cut from Head Start, which provides early childhood education. Because of the cut, 70,000 children will lose access to the program. The cuts will also mean layoffs of 14,000 teachers, teacher aides, and staff emembers in those programs.
“Most everyone agrees that a time when oftentimes schools are overcrowded, the last thing this country needs is to lay off teachers,” said Jim Manley, a longtime aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Additionally, Obama warned on Friday that teachers on military bases are subject to furloughs since they are civilians. Although military members are not at risk of losing their jobs, many could be concerned about the effects of the cuts on their children’s schools.
4) Defense: From Manufacturing to Public Shows
The president traveled to Virginia this week to highlight the cuts that will hit the defense sector. The reductions won’t hit members of the military as severely as civilians working for the Defense Department. From the civilian employees of the Pentagon to the defense manufacturing communities — such as aerospace manufactures in Missouri and Indiana or shipbuilders in Mississippi and Maine — the cuts are likely to grab a lot of attention.
“Most folks highly object to any cuts that would potentially have an impact on our national security and the troops that are serving this country,” said Manley, the senior director of QGA Public Affairs.
In addition to furloughs for civilian defense employees and the delays in deployments of certain ships across the globe, the cuts from sequestration also mean halting some of the little things that connect the military to the public: Fleet Week, port visit, and flyovers for sporting events.
“Even though they’re not personally going to miss the flyover, [Americans] don’t like the way that sounds,” Eaglen said. “Voters just don’t like to think they lose that patriotic connection to the military.”
As the Obama administration prepares for a drawdown of troops in Afghanistan and continue a renewed effort in Asia, these cuts could affect the nation’s defense strategy. With only one aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, flight time cut severely, and maintenance cut drastically for ships and bases, the nation’s national security, officials warn, could be at risk.