NEW YORK - The once-delayed, long-dreaded $85 billion sequester is about to become reality.
How do I know? Because President Barack Obama is taking his case, and scare tactics, to the people.
Unless Congress acts to avert this year's across-the-board cuts largely to discretionary spending, the result will be meat shortages, outbreaks of foodborne illnesses, crazy people roaming the streets, a reduced number of first-responders and border-patrol agents, longer lines to pass through airport security, and even meteorite strikes.
OK, I made up that last one.
The sequester was designed to be a Sword of Damocles hanging over Congress's head.
The 2011 negotiations to raise the debt ceiling led to the creation of the so-called supercommittee, charged with finding additional savings in the budget on top of those agreed to by Congress.
The automatic $1.2 trillion of cuts during the next nine years ($984 billion after interest savings) are the reward for failure, as dictated by the Budget Control Act.
The problem isn't the size of the cuts: $85 billion in a $3.6 trillion budget isn't going to sink the $16 trillion U.S. economy. The stock market has yet to experience a sequester moment.
And even with the automatic cuts, total federal outlays will increase each and every year for the next decade, according to the latest Congressional Budget Office estimates.
Nor is there much disagreement over the federal government's duplicative, overlapping programs in need of a sharp budget knife.
Heck, presidents have been trying to root out waste, fraud and abuse in the federal government at least since Teddy Roosevelt's "Keep Commission" in 1905 - without much success.
Rather, the problem is the blunt-instrument design of the 2013 sequester, intended to be so awful Congress would never, ever let it happen.
"The grave error in the sequester is that it was done by program, project and activity: Each one of those has to be cut by the same amount," said Steve Bell, senior director of economic policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington and a former chief of staff to the Senate Budget Committee.
"It's the mechanics that make it so horrendous. It cuts the meat and the fat indiscriminately."
The second problem is the failure to address the main driver of the deficit, which is mandatory spending on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
Discretionary spending, which is subject to annual congressional appropriations, accounts for only 36 percent of the federal budget today. Forty years ago, defense spending alone consumed half the budget.
The 2011 budget law imposed caps on discretionary spending that would save about $900 billion over 10 years. Sequestration would lop an additional 5 percent off nondefense programs and 8 percent off defense this year, according to the White House Office of Management and Budget.