By now you've probably heard the term "sequester" floating around. But do you really know what it means?
It refers to the harsh federal spending cuts that will kick in if Congress can't reach a deal, and it's not looking so good.
Thursday, a series of across the board spending cuts were scheduled to take effect that almost no one in Washington wanted, but they appeared powerless to avoid. The cuts would reduce government spending by $85 billion this year and by $1.2 trillion over a decade.
What nearly everyone hates is that the cuts are across the board, targeting programs favored by both Republicans and Democrats: defense gets whacked by 7.3 percent and domestic programs by more than 5 percent.
A few things are exempt: social security, medicaid, military pay, war funding and some anti-poverty programs. But other programs like emergency assistance for disasters, prisons, energy, education and parks all take a hit.
The sequester exists because Washington couldn't agree on spending cuts in 2011. So they created an ax that would loom over lawmakers and force agreement on saner, more targeted spending reductions.