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. Edward

    Our Congress has no problem finding new areas to send our troops.They constantley praise them for the sacrifices they make.These same people knock down public employees as if they are the scum of the earth.Yet these people wouldn't make a tough vote if they knew are country was about to be destroyed.What a fine example these public servents are! When it's time to really do something they go home on Thursday afternoon.When you write to them and ask them to answer a tough question you won't get it. What an example of do nothingness they are.I'm sorry to say it, but it's time to charge the Bastiel.

    March 1, 2013 09:59 am at 9:59 am |
  2. Lawton

    What are the Washington leaders, including the White House, contributing to the spending reduction? I haven't read of any staff, travel, etc. reductions. All you hear is cuts to government agencies.

    March 1, 2013 10:01 am at 10:01 am |
  3. rs

    Well, Ray, in some ways you're right. The Republicans have been itchin' to crash the economy again- and boy, here we are. What do you think the fallout will be? Clearly the Republican economics have failed: years and years of dribble-down economics didn't help the poor and shrunk the middle class, while making record numbers of millionaires; "Cut-taxes-and-spend" shot the defict and debt. through the roof; off-the-books "pre-emptive wars cost more that a $trillion; posturing over the debt ceiling got our credit rating downgraded; not passing a budget for 4 years- another hot idea; their Sequester; and yesterday, the GOP filibustering any attempt to fix their stupid Sequester.
    Yeah, the GOP pretty much dies at 11:59pm tonite when their attack on the economy begins. They won't win a federal election for a generation at this rate.
    Be careful what you ask for indeed!

    March 1, 2013 10:04 am at 10:04 am |
  4. rs

    J Joe
    The difference is, if my income suddenly drops 2% (although this far through the FY it is more like 8%), I can move money around- cancel cable to pay the gas, etc. These are cuts from every account within the government. EVERYTHING gets cut, not just an agency's budget.That is how Republicans crafted it- all for MAXIMUM damage.

    March 1, 2013 10:07 am at 10:07 am |
  5. Neo

    These are cuts to the AUTOMATIC INCREASE that is planned each year NOT cuts to the baseline. If the government areas affected could work with last year's budget, there would be no crisis. The entire show is just that...smoke and mirrors. The attempt/threat to cut emergency services, beans and bullets to deployed troops, etc. are all made to scare people into demanding higher taxes and more spending. Those in power don't want it to be smooth and a non-event.

    March 1, 2013 10:07 am at 10:07 am |
  6. Sniffit

    Have fun with the blame, GOPers/Teatrolls. I've always wondered if there's a moment of regret when the self-applied noose finally snaps taught. Let us know, will you?

    March 1, 2013 10:08 am at 10:08 am |

    We need to get rid of all govt agencies we dont need. GOVT IS TOO BIG! WE CAN'T AFFORD IT!

    March 1, 2013 10:09 am at 10:09 am |
  8. Saez

    This can be resolved so that Americans don't feel so much of the Pinch. Wake up Congress pass a bill to reduce funding to other Countries. Why does the U.S. always have to support other countries while things are falling apart at home. Quick and easy fix. Who cares if it's in the best interest of America to suppor other countries most Americans could care less. Strengthen our economy first before aiding others period.

    March 1, 2013 10:09 am at 10:09 am |
  9. Anonymous

    For the life of me, I can't understand John Boehner and Mitch McConnell.
    They got their "cuts". All of them.
    There will be no added revenue from the corporations.
    There will be no added revenue from the upper 1%.
    These cuts come from the working class and poor.
    Just like they wanted.
    So, tell me please?
    Why are Boehner and McConnell now crying?
    It's what they both wanted. It's what they fought for.

    March 1, 2013 10:10 am at 10:10 am |
  10. Sniffit

    "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."

    The cornerstone of their entire platform is a giant self-fulfilling prophecy:


    March 1, 2013 10:11 am at 10:11 am |
  11. Chris

    I'm here on Friday treating our brain injured soliders while our some in congress cheer on some leaders for the spending cuts. AND they left town on Thursday night after recently taking a relatively long vacation. But I'll have one day a week off without compnesation for six months beginning April 1st. Do you really believe our wounded warriors will get the full compleement of quality care they deserve. Shame on you.

    March 1, 2013 10:14 am at 10:14 am |
  12. Dayffd

    I Why is nothing being said about the tax breaks major corporations, such as the oil companies, and the loop holes the super wealthy get? Close at least some of those and a lot of the barriers to resolving this mess would be gone, and a more balanced approach including spending cuts could be reached. Then again the Repugnants won't consider something like that, preferring to see lay-offs that will be coming, cuts in services and defense, etc. Yeah, won't happen today, but as time passes and a few months down the road as the bites start taking effect there will be more crying and gnashing of teeth.

    March 1, 2013 10:15 am at 10:15 am |
  13. johnson

    Ho Hum... looks like today will come and go with no real effect

    March 1, 2013 10:16 am at 10:16 am |
  14. Tapk4*

    The Republicans are laughing all the way to the bank and I might add to the White House. Finally, they have obtained massive spending cuts they have been demanding and wishing for with absolutely no concessions on tax loopholes or any type of revenue generating measures. Shortly, the Republican House will craft legislation that will refund those departments, agencies, programs that they want funded (i.e. Dept of Defense, Dept of Homeland Security, Energy, etc.) and leave the rest unfunded (i.e. Dept of Education, enviornment, health, scientific research, Dept of State, etc.). Small wonder the Republicans refused to negotiate - they are happy as clams.

    March 1, 2013 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
  15. Mark

    FDR and the Congresses he worked with go down in history as having the backbone to stand up to military powers in two different fronts and thus established the USA as the military might of the world.
    Reagan and the Congresses he worked with go down in history as having the backbone to not blink against the Soviet Union and watched them crumble under their own weight.
    Clinton and the Congresses he worked with, even though deep conflicts, go down in history as coming to common ground to create a budget surplus and set us economically strong.

    President Obama and the Congress he has now and the most recent Congress will go down in history as serving their own parties before the American people, uncooperative in the face of questions regarding tax rates and spending cuts, and invoking comparisons to playground fights. I don't want to blame one party or the other, the President or the House or the Senate, as blaming and mud slinging is instrumental in getting us here. I only want to see them find common ground and work together to not force these hollow compromises and artificially created crises. Get it done, elected representatives.

    March 1, 2013 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
  16. fancy48

    I am so sick of the "blame game" and of being held hostage by the very people who claim to care about this Country, when in fact all they care about is their personal goals. They are like fourth graders playing dodge ball. Win at any cost, right or wrong. They seem to think they don't have to answer to anyone. Maybe if we vote ALL of them out of office (as long as that takes) until they realize we are sick of their tactics, they might start working together for the betterment of our Country. It is apparent they think the public is stupid and forgetful and listen to the one that screams the loudest and blames everyone else for the situation we find our Country in.,

    March 1, 2013 10:20 am at 10:20 am |
  17. dan

    how nice. congress decides on a fatefull day to just take off a bunch of time when it is vital for them to be discussing the budget cuts and come back to work at 10 am. WHAT are they doing? The budget cuts need to start from the top. This is the only profession that I can think of that works a 2-3 year stint and gets full retirement pay. Funny how they made a mandatory pay increase for themselves and have to debate where all the other cuts are going to come from. But we cannot complain, we are the ones who put them in power to make these decisions. I know at Mt. Vernon, aka George Washingtons resting ground, he is rolling in his grave.

    March 1, 2013 10:22 am at 10:22 am |
  18. Moonstruck

    I'm so disgusted with the Republican party. They simply don't care about the middle class or poor. They are smug and will not be effected in the slightest by the sequestration. Tax the wealthy more already! Hard working middle class and the poor will be effected here. If we are furloughed, Senators and Congressmen should take a pay cut. How about it smug Republicans? Are you taking a pay cut during the sequestration?

    March 1, 2013 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  19. rs


    We need to get rid of all govt agencies we dont need. GOVT IS TOO BIG! WE CAN'T AFFORD IT!
    And whichagencies might those be? The ones Perry couldn't remember (and didn't know what they did)?

    March 1, 2013 10:30 am at 10:30 am |
  20. Disappointment

    This is a massive failure by both Houses of Congress, the President, and both Politcal Parties. That's it, we should begin the charge to vote out ALL incumbents.

    March 1, 2013 10:31 am at 10:31 am |
  21. Triple A

    This has been the plan all along, Obama and his clan has been nurturing this blow to the middle class for 4 years. Fact: Middle class is going to suffer and their incomes are going to plunge. Welfare roles not only continue to climb but the takers welfare checks are not going to be reduced by one dime.... Makes no sense, working America who pay taxes putting money into the till will have their incomes slashed... The parasites of America who only take and pay no taxes into the till will see no affect to their pay... Welcome to Obamas you didn't build that wealth redistribution America.

    March 1, 2013 10:31 am at 10:31 am |
  22. Peter Clarke

    rich get richer, the poor get poorer and the middle class vanishes. It is exactly what the GOP stands for. We sure as hell don't want corporate welfare to to be impacted.

    March 1, 2013 10:32 am at 10:32 am |
  23. sandy

    We have become a nation that wants everything handed to us, we don't want to work so we get longer unempolyment benefits, we don't want to work so we get food stamps to feed our children, we don't want to work so we get head start for our children, we don't want to work so we get medicaid and then we don't want to work so we apply for medicare disability and we get evrything we want, we just have to know how to work the system, so much waste because we don't want to work we want the government to just hand us everything and they do and they have been for the last 4 years, so now when it is treathen to be taken away to where we might actually have to go get a job we cry and blame Rep, even though everyone knew since 2011 this was coming,
    There are jobs out there are they just beneath you??? Everyone needs to stop crying and work hard and shrink the government before it starts to tell us how to think and what to wear.

    March 1, 2013 10:33 am at 10:33 am |
  24. rs


    I"Why is nothing being said about the tax breaks major corporations, such as the oil companies, and the loop holes the super wealthy get? Close at least some of those and a lot of the barriers to resolving this mess would be gone..."
    Well, Boehner and McConnell have addressed that. They said they have raised all the taxes they are going to raise (wow! the tax rate went up 3% on the top 0.3% of wage earners!). The "Party of No" rides off a cliff.

    March 1, 2013 10:33 am at 10:33 am |
  25. sandy

    Find it very hard to believe that this country is in such dire financial crises, people going to lose jobs, etc. at noon today, and those buffoons in congress left the city...Kerry gave 60 million to Syria, etc. What is wrong with their intellects?

    March 1, 2013 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
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