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For the past few weeks, most press coverage of the sequester has been wrapped up in the GOP’s obsession with keeping White House tours and the Easter Egg Roll going. Now, we’re finally starting to hit the reality of what these cuts mean — and that means layoffs, month-long furloughs and real danger for air travelers.

The FAA announced today that 149 air traffic control towers across the nation will be closed, leaving many pilots alone to manage their takeoffs and landings.

The FAA must cut $637 million from its budget for the rest of the fiscal year, ending in September. Most of its 47,000 employees will be subjected to furloughs.

The majority of the airports affected are small and far removed from major airline traffic, servicing fewer than 150,000 total flights a year. However, even Chicago’s Midway and General Mitchell Airport in Milwaukee will see cutbacks, leaving towers unmanned in the evening hours. When a tower is closed, risk “goes up exponentially,” according Mark Hanna, director of the Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport in Springfield, IL.

“It’s premature to discuss flight cancellations, as the earliest any furloughs would occur is April 7,” said Katie Connell, spokeswoman for the industry group Airlines for America. “We are working with the FAA to minimize any impact to passengers and shippers.”

Protests against the sequester cuts took place all over the country Thursday. As the thousand little wounds that come from the $85 billion in cuts that Congress just re-approved as part of a continuing resolution are felt, they aren’t big enough to show up in the national press. But local news is catching all kinds of gems — like the town of Windsor, MO, which can’t afford toilet paper.

U.S. News and World Report‘s Anson Kaye calls this the sequester’s “evil genius“:

Love it or hate it, there’s a certain genius to the sequester. No, it’s not the notion of including cuts aimed at offending folks on both sides of the ideological spectrum. Nor is it its purported ability to force a budget deal. No, the genius is in the seven months it will take to unfold.

Why? Because $85 billion in budget cuts should cause outrage from coast to coast. But spread it out over seven months, and you might just get away with it.

No doubt congresspeople are hearing complaints from their districts, particularly from the defense contractors who were supposed to keep Republicans from making these cuts. But after being forced to accept the end of tax breaks on income over $400,000, Republicans feel the need to deliver the kind of noticeable austerity the sequester is inflicting.

And with the economy finally humming along and stock markets testing highs, the GOP looks as if it’s content to keep the relatively controlled burn of the sequester in place. It will keep kicking kids off Head Start and canceling soldiers’ tuition assistance until, perhaps, a pilot who needed an air traffic controller ends up making the kind of mistake the national news can’t ignore.

 Photo: Finetooth via Wikimedia Commons

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