President Obama and officials in his administration have spent the past few days warning what will happen when cuts kick in Friday as part of an agreement he made with Republicans almost a year-and-a-half ago.
The alarms are going off in every department and at all levels of government about the hit to programs and services if the White House and Congress cannot agree on how to avoid an $85 billion cut in federal spending in the first year of a 10-year plan to reduce the federal deficit by $1.2 trillion.
There will be fewer meat inspections, administration officials say. Thousands of low-income children will lose out on Head Start. Jobless will lose some of their benefits. Passengers will be inconvenienced by longer security lines a airports.
National parks will reduce their hours. Border security will be impacted by fewer or agents. Military operations will be curtailed. Thousands of civilian workers for the Defense Department could be furloughed. And Monday, it was learned that illegal immigrants are being released in waves from detention centers.
In fact, the cuts were meant to be harmful and so distasteful that neither President Obama nor Republicans would let them take effect, or so it was believed when the sequester an idea proposed by President Obama was first agreed to in the summer of 2011.
For now, no agreement is anticipated on avoiding the sequester. Cuts will start to be implemented as scheduled, although their full effect will not be felt immediately but over a period time.
The debate is a vivid reminder of the size and reach of the federal government in every facet of American life. However, the widespread sentiment to reduce the federal deficit meets resistance when it is a favored program that might be slashed.
The White House is using the worse-case scenarios to dramatize the painful nature of the cuts and to win over public opinion in support of President Obamas call for unspecified cuts and incessant demand for higher taxes on wealthy Americans.
A Senate Democratic plan to avert the showdown would delay the cuts until 2014 while also calling for a minimum 30 percent tax rate on incomes between $1 million and $2 million.
Republicans, though, insist that federal spending has to be reduced and oppose any further proposals by President Obama to raise taxes.
Republicans argue that they already agreed to increase federal revenues with their January concession to higher taxes on American households earning more than $450,000.
President Obama and congressional Democrats and Republicans are showing no indication of flexibility or willingness to consider less painful ways to reduce spending as they devote more time to blaming each other.
However, if Americans cringing at the prospect of the looming cuts wish to preserve their favorite program or service untouched, then they have pay for them.
If that calls for more revenue, then everyone has to share in the costs through tax reform that asks all taxpayers to share the added financial burden.