LEESBURG, Va. (AP) â¿¿ In many ways, it's an odd topic to make a central campaign issue: sequestration.
Many voters greet the word with a blank stare or slightly glazed eyes, and when Republican George Allen brings up the issue in his Senate campaign, he first has to explain what he's talking about.
What's more, the issue will come to a head before either he or his opponent, Democrat Tim Kaine, will be sworn in.
Still, in a state like Virginia where a big chunk of the economy is dependent on government spending and military dollars in particular, the automatic, across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration are a critical issue. Whether it's a political issue that connects with voters remains to be seen.
"I think Virginians are well aware of it," said Allen, who perhaps more than any other candidate has latched on to sequestration as a campaign issue. "People in northern Virginia and Hampton Roads (parts of the state with large populations of military workers and contractors) are really aware of it."
In the last of the presidential debates Monday night, President Barack Obama said flatly that sequestration "will not occur." But the White House also has made clear that Obama hasn't given up making any alternative include higher taxes on the wealthy.
In a nutshell, sequestration was put into play as part of a budget compromise in August 2011 that averted a default on the federal debt. Under the compromise, which had bipartisan support, Congress would have to come up with $1.2 trillion in alternative budget cuts by the end of this year.
If it were to fail, automatic cuts of $1.2 trillion over nine years would begin on Jan. 2, 2012, with half coming from defense. The sequester cuts were designed to be so painful that Congress would be compelled to act. They are a big part of the so-called fiscal cliff, from which the country could plunge back into recession, economists warn, if Congress also lets all of the Bush-era tax cuts expire at the first of the year.