How it happened: Deadline day for the forced spending cuts
March 1st, 2013
08:53 AM ET
5 years ago

How it happened: Deadline day for the forced spending cuts

(CNN) - Lawmakers have known about this day since August 2011 - a day they say was never supposed to come - but nevertheless, it's here.

Starting Friday, the federal government is required by law to start cutting $85 billion from its budget over the next seven months, with a total of $1.2 trillion over the next decade.

The automatic cuts will hit a number of federal agencies in both defense and non-defense spending. Lawmakers and agency heads warn the effects will cause a range of issues from unemployment to longer lines at the airport to lower-quality food inspections.

President Barack Obama sat down at the White House with congressional leaders Friday morning - the timing of the last-minute meeting has been widely criticized - and later held a press conference in the press briefing room. But with most members of Congress out of town, few thought it likely top brass would reach a deal to avert the cuts.

Check below to see the day's developments.

8:31 p.m. ET: President Barack Obama signed as required on Friday evening an order implementing the broad forced federal spending cuts, known in Washington as the sequester. He was required to sign the order before 11:59 p.m. Read more.

8:24 p.m. ET: Sen. John McCain of Arizona said all in Washington - including himself - share part of the blame for the cuts taking effect. Especially hard-hit, he said, will be the military. "Are we going to be able to supply them with the equipment that they really need?"

5:48 p.m. ET - CNN Chief Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash looks at the battle of words over the cuts.

2:45 p.m. ET - Former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney blasted President Barack Obama over the forced, across-the-board spending cuts–known in Washington as the sequester–scheduled to kick in Friday.

"Well, no one can think that's been a success for the president. He didn't think the sequester would happen. It is happening," Romney said in part of an interview that aired Friday on Fox News. "But to date, what we've seen is the president out campaigning to the American people, doing rallies around the country, flying around the country, and berating Republicans. And blaming and pointing. Now what does that do? That causes the Republicans to retrench and then put up a wall and fight back. It's a very natural human emotion."

Read more

1:51 p.m. ET - President Obama stated in his press conference that janitors and security personnel on Capitol Hill will face less pay because of the spending cuts. CNN's Dana Bash and Lisa Desjardins report that while there are no furloughs planned for those employees, Senate Sergeant at Arms Terry Gainer says some janitorial staff will likely see smaller paychecks because of the very sharp cut in overtime available and the lack of merit increases.

“Neither the United States Capitol Police officers nor our facility team members will experience compensation reductions. Overtime opportunities will be severely restricted and that ultimately impacts service,” Gainer said.

1:45 p.m. ET - Did you miss the press conference? Click here for a transcript of the president's remarks.

1:30 p.m. ET - From CNNMoney's Jeanne Sahadi: The political bickering over the automatic spending cuts has done little but cloud the public's understanding of what's going on and why. So we'll try to set the record straight on at least a few oft-repeated misconceptions.

Read more at CNNMoney: 4 myths about the spending cuts

1:23 p.m. ET - In the White House meeting earlier Friday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made clear that solutions to the across-the-board cuts "can and must be done through the regular order rather than in a backroom with no input from Senate Republicans," according to a Senate GOP aide.

McConnell also released a statement: “Today’s meeting was an opportunity to restate our commitment to the American people that we would significantly reduce Washington spending. Over the coming weeks, we’ll have the opportunity to ensure funding is at the level we promised while working on solutions for making spending reductions more intelligently than the President’s across-the-board cuts. But I want to make clear that any solutions will be done through the regular order, with input from both sides of the aisle in public debate. I will not be part of any back-room deal and I will absolutely not agree to increase taxes.”

12:42 p.m. ET - House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi held a press conference on Capitol Hill.

"I think some people may have thought sequester meant 'shut down of government.' No it means more like 'hold hostage all the things you care about so we can have across-the-board cuts'."

She then read a furlough memo issued by the Justice Department this morning.

"The furloughs are already going out," she said. "They will have an impact on peoples' lives."

12:22 p.m. ET - CNN Chief Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash reports that the White House meeting was quite "subdued" with no drama, according to a GOP congressional aide familiar with the meeting.

The source said there isn't much to add because nothing much happened besides people laying out their positions

12:20 p.m. ET - From CNN Political Producer Martina: "Just two months after the brinksmanship of the "fiscal cliff," Washington is staring at yet another deadline to avoid yet another fiscal calamity of its own making. But this time, something is different..."

Read more: Shame and blame: Why Washington needs couples therapy

12:18 p.m. ET - CNN Senior Congressional Producer Deirdre Walsh reports that House officers–including the House Sgt. at Arms, Clerk, Chief Administrative Officer–sent letters earlier this week telling their employees that they have been planning for potential cuts and there were no plans for furloughs initially, according to a senior House official.

The House is also cutting back on staffing for various entrances to Capitol/House office buildings. The Senate is doing the same. This official emphasized that security would not be impacted, and they are still finalizing the plans. But it’s expected fewer public entrances would be open around the complex.

Individual House members offices decide how to handle the cuts for their employees. One senior Democratic leadership aide said they are still awaiting the details on what the exact figures on the cuts will be.

11:57 a.m. ET - Asked Friday by CNN Chief White House Correspondent Jessica Yellin why he can't simply lock congressional leaders in a room until they reach a deficit-reduction agreement, President Obama said he can't "force Congress to do the right thing."

"Jessica, I am not a dictator, I'm the president," he said while speaking to reporters in the White House Press Briefing Room. "Ultimately, if Mitch McConnell or John Boehner say we need to go to catch a plane, I can't have Secret Service block the doorway."

11:54 a.m. ET - In his press briefing Friday morning, Obama continued to fault Republicans for Congress' failure to find a deficit-reduction agreement.

"None of this is necessary. It's happening because a choice that Republicans in congress have made," he said. "They've allowed these cuts to happen because they refuse to budge on closing a single wasteful loophole to help reduce the deficit. As recently as yesterday they decided to protect special interest tax breaks for the well off and the well connected and they think that that's apparently more important than protecting our military or middle class families from the pain of these cuts. "

The president said that the nation's deficit problem is not about spending too much on education or repairing roads, but instead involves long-term medical costs that need to be addressed as part of entitlement reforms–cuts that Republicans want.

11:46 a.m. ET - House Speaker John Boehner's office released a statement about what took place at the White House meeting Friday morning. According to this office, Boehner reminded the president that Republicans had already compromised on revenue two months ago when they passed a fiscal cliff bill that included an increase in tax rates.

At the White House this morning, Speaker Boehner continued to press the president and (Senate Majority) Leader Reid to produce a plan to replace the sequester that can actually pass the Democratic-controlled Senate. He suggested the most productive way to resolve the sequester issue will be through regular order. The speaker reminded the president that Congress just last month provided him the tax hike he was seeking without any spending cuts. It’s time to focus on spending, the speaker told the group. The Republican leaders reiterated their willingness to close tax loopholes, but not as a replacement for the sequester’s spending cuts, saying any revenue generated by closing tax loopholes should be used to lower tax rates and create jobs.

11:39 a.m. ET - In the briefing room, Obama said he told congressional leaders "these cuts will hurt our economy, cost us jobs, and to set it right, both sides need to be willing to compromise."

The "dumb, arbitrary cuts" in government spending that take effect Friday are "unnecessary and inexcusable," he added, emphasizing that "not everyone will feel the pain right away" but over the next week, "many will have their lives disrupted in difficult ways."

"None of this is necessary," Obama added, placing blame on Republicans for not compromising and allowing tax revenue on the table as part of a deficit-reduction deal to avert the forced spending cuts.

11:18 a.m. ET - The White House announced the president will deliver a statement in the briefing room at 11:35 a.m.

11:14 a.m. ET - After the meeting, House Speaker John Boehner came outside to make a statement.

"The president got his tax hikes on January 1st. This discussion about revenue, in my view, is over. It's about taking on the spending problem here in Washington," he said.

Boehner said the House has already passed two budget bills and called out the Senate for not passing any. "The House has laid out a plan to avoid the sequester," he said. "I would hope that the Senate would act."

As for the next fiscal battle in Washington, the speaker announced that the House will move a bill next week to continue funding the government past March 27.

"I'm hopeful that we won't have to deal with the threat of a government shutdown while we're dealing with the sequester at the same time. The House will act next week and I hope the Senate will follow suit," he said.

11:07 a.m. ET - Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was seen leaving the White House.

10:47 a.m. ET - Retired Republican Rep. Steve LaTourette said Congress failed to pass a deficit-reduction plan because "the two sides won't give up their sacred cows and reach some conclusion."

"Republicans have to get serious on revenue, and quite frankly the president has to begin has to begin talking about significant entitlement reform," the former Ohio congressman said on CNN's "Newsroom."

10:35 a.m. ET - The president and vice president started their meeting at 10:18 a.m. with the House and Senate leadership, a White House Official told the print pool.

10:10 a.m ET - Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said it's ridiculous that Congress left for the weekend as the cuts start to go into place.

"The the last place I should be right now is Florida," she said on CNN's "Newsroom," arguing that Democrats had "insisted" on staying in the nation's capital but Republicans "refused" to compromise. "We should be in Washington, sitting down at the table, working together."

10:06 a.m. ET - House Speaker John Boehner arrived for the meeting.

10 a.m. ET - Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell arrived at the White House.

9:48 a.m. ET - Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid arrived at the White House for the meeting.

8:04 a.m. ET: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell released a statement about today's meeting at the White House, reiterating that there will be "no last-minute, back-room deal."

"We promised the American people that we would cut Washington spending, and the President signed those cuts into law. Republicans have offered the President numerous solutions, including the flexibility he needs to secure those reductions more intelligently. I'm happy to discuss other ideas to keep our commitment to reducing Washington spending at today's meeting. But there will be no last-minute, back-room deal and absolutely no agreement to increase taxes."

Also see:

Forced spending cuts begin today

Spending cuts threaten military town's businesses

Spending cuts: When they'll really bite

Filed under: Congress • Debt • Deficit • President Obama
soundoff (454 Responses)
  1. Rudy NYC

    8:04 a.m. ET: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell released a statement about today's meeting at the White House, reiterating that there will be "no last-minute, back-room deal."
    Republicans have been predicting for weeks and weeks now that no deal would be reached to modify the sequestration. It's amazing how that has been exactly what has turned out to be true. Just as they predicted, no deal has been reached.

    March 1, 2013 09:01 am at 9:01 am |
  2. Martin Brown

    Maybe this will make Washington wake up and quit acting like a bunch of first graders

    March 1, 2013 09:15 am at 9:15 am |
  3. john

    It's OK. Polling shows the majority of people will blame Republicans for failing to resolve the sequester. If we have to sputter for a little while to get these lazy bums thrown out of office, I am all for it. The American people are resilient and have faced far worse, but we will NOT forgive the arrogance and obstructionism of the Republicans.

    March 1, 2013 09:20 am at 9:20 am |
  4. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA

    Sen. McConnell, good luck with getting re-elected.


    March 1, 2013 09:20 am at 9:20 am |
  5. Bob Plautz

    Every district in every state should immediately start a recall election for all in congress and the President. We need to find people that will work together and these people have shown that they get paid for doing nothinng. Cut their pay, retirement and health benefits just like all of the rest of us.

    March 1, 2013 09:22 am at 9:22 am |
  6. anthony ny

    the deal was to cut spending, so now why all this drama?

    March 1, 2013 09:22 am at 9:22 am |
  7. Alina77

    I would never believe that Congress will have no interest to look for in details on what these cuts will do to our economy... These cuts are small, unreasonable, unbalanced, irresponsible and doesn't make any sense. They are slashing little business but not touching the biggest problem Medicare and Medicaid ... Congress showed its incompetence , irresponsibility, and waist of our votes. FIRE THEM ALL.!

    March 1, 2013 09:28 am at 9:28 am |
  8. SeeThruIt2

    When we had the financial meltdown in 2008 due to people over-extending themselves in their mortgages, President Bush stood BEHIND Nancy Pelosi while she berated him and the administration while she announced the TARP deal. (And he had tried to warn Congress to act in 2005 to prevent a meltdown.)

    President Bush did whatever it took to fix the situation, even by taking that humiliation from her.

    March 1, 2013 09:28 am at 9:28 am |
  9. plain&simple

    Congress has raised it's middle finger to all Americans. Government by distaine. If you are in congress,your job is to present bills to the Senate,the they go to the president. To suggest anything different to the American people is wrong!

    March 1, 2013 09:29 am at 9:29 am |
  10. Really!

    What a crook? Anyone who puts their party agenda before the people's interests is a crook. Time for recall elections. Who seriously elects those mornons? don't fraking talk about the American people next time. You don't represent but your self and the bunch of crooks who work with you. No deal? Ok..No re-election for you next time.

    March 1, 2013 09:30 am at 9:30 am |
  11. Aaron

    no deal should be reached. Obama wanted this, now he has it.

    March 1, 2013 09:32 am at 9:32 am |
  12. wcorney

    Companies have been cutting expenses and their business continues to do well. Why can't the government?

    March 1, 2013 09:33 am at 9:33 am |
  13. Cody

    Don't see why Boehner is upset – this is exactly what he wanted.

    He's just pretending, because the suffering of Americans for his profit was his long-term goal anyways.

    March 1, 2013 09:37 am at 9:37 am |
  14. mk

    Budget cuts, isn't that what everybody wanted? You should be careful what you wish for.
    What people really wanted was for cuts to impact everybody but themselves.

    March 1, 2013 09:38 am at 9:38 am |
  15. Chris

    If any of us acted the way our so-called leaders are acting, we would be fired. Why is congress not forced to do their jobs?!? Elections only bring in more incompetence and dead lock partisanship! It is time for REAL change!

    March 1, 2013 09:43 am at 9:43 am |
  16. Anna Fowler

    I believe the last election should wake up the Republican party's continued support to protect only the rich and create unwanted and costly wars in not only billions and billions of taxpayer dollars, but millions of innocent lives. It was Cheney and Bush who are responsible for thge deficit, mortgage crisis and a near depression. Next election will prove we will no longer tolerate their leadership and they will become extinct.

    March 1, 2013 09:44 am at 9:44 am |
  17. J Joe

    If this meager 2% cut affects services you personally receive then the agency serving you has done that out of spite in an attempt to stir your anger and win your vote for bigger spending and higher taxes. Almost every agency can easily absorb this just as many Americans have absorbed bigger cuts in their personal budget.

    March 1, 2013 09:45 am at 9:45 am |
  18. That one scientist guy

    If the government is spending massive amounts of money and spending needed to be cut. Although there probably is a better way to do it this is not a bad thing. Unless of course you hate future generations then this is a terrible thing.

    March 1, 2013 09:45 am at 9:45 am |
  19. rayray

    can't wait for 2014

    March 1, 2013 09:45 am at 9:45 am |
  20. PA Mom


    Companies have been cutting expenses and their business continues to do well. Why can't the government?

    Companies have been cutting JOBS, they are awash in cash and refuse to hire. The government has cut more jobs then the public sector. They HAVE cut spending. NO ONE is saying there shouldn't be spending cuts, they are saying that you can't have cuts alone, and more then you could have revenue increases alone to balance the budget.

    March 1, 2013 09:47 am at 9:47 am |
  21. jpmichigan

    I personally blame the President and the Democrats for the situation we are in. The Sequester, that was never to happen, was developed by this administration to be used as a trigger to higher taxes, just like the fiscal cliff. Lack of leadership on the Presidents part, instead of reassuring the American people that cuts are necessary and making different choices what to cut, to promote increase taxes, they (administration and Democrats ) use fear tactics. Obama always wait to the eleventh hour to do something, which equals nothing . He got his tax hikes with the fiscal cliff, but as usual it always not enough. He will make the most of the two years he has, for the last two after 2014 election the Republican may just take over the Senate. Chicken have definitely came home to roust, Mr. President.

    March 1, 2013 09:47 am at 9:47 am |
  22. Ray E. (Georgia)

    Golly Gee,
    This comes under the Heading: Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it. For years and years and years the people elected canidates that passes the Buck. The last "Great Decision" was the liberal's and democrats forcing the Banks to make risky loans so everyone could get a Morgage even tho most if not all coludn't afford it. They were called Liar Loans. So the economy nearly went under and the liberal's put on their next "Act" Bailouts. So now the Sequester is upon us. Once again the Big Liberal ideas are a Glaring Failure. High unemployment, huge Federal Debt and no one paying the Bill. That is your result of democrats and liberals selling you a "Bill of Goods". The hard School of experence takes no prisinors.

    March 1, 2013 09:49 am at 9:49 am |
  23. James

    Why is it that in the real working world when an employee doesn't do their job they are fired, but if an elected official doesn't do their job they get re-elected? I don't know of any job where an employee with a looming significant deadline is given a week of vacation the week prior. Its about time Congress, Senate and the President realize this is not a game of monopoly, we the working people of this country can't buy groceries with a bunch of pink $50 bills in our wallet and this is not a game to us. Its time to trim the fat and DC is grossly obese. Either start earning your pay checks as elected officials or resign for someone who will.

    March 1, 2013 09:56 am at 9:56 am |
  24. Anonymous


    I personally blame the President and the Democrats for the situation we are in.

    Of course you blame the President.
    You all blamed him for the crash in 2008.
    History itself proves otherwise.
    He was sworn in on Jan. 2009

    March 1, 2013 09:57 am at 9:57 am |
  25. Rudy NYC

    Ray E. (Georgia) wrote:

    .... The last "Great Decision" was the liberal's and democrats forcing the Banks to make risky loans so everyone could get a Morgage even tho most if not all coludn't afford it. They were called Liar Loans. ...
    Is this the latest historical re-write from the right wing media machine? Democrats are the blame for the bad mortgages because they "forced the bankis" to make bad loans? How is it possible for that to have occurred when the housing market began collapsing in late 2005 and throughout 2006. That's when the looming mortgage crisis was becoming apparent. It took a few years for the payments on those mortgages to balloon into monthly payments that middle class incomes could no longer afford.

    March 1, 2013 09:57 am at 9:57 am |
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