The day that was never supposed to happen is here
March 1st, 2013
06:00 AM ET
1 year ago

The day that was never supposed to happen is here

(CNN) - Today is the day lawmakers have known about since August 2011: the day those forced federal spending cuts kick in.

This Friday is also a day many never expected would come. After all, the cuts known as sequestration were designed to be so draconian that lawmakers would be forced to compromise and avoid them.

But they haven’t, and as lawmakers left Washington to begin their weekend on Thursday, so left any prospect of avoiding the cuts that President Barack Obama and his administration have warned will lead to long airport lines and fewer air traffic safety controllers; federal government furloughs and layoffs; cuts to food inspection and border security programs; and education funding decreases that will shut young students out of Head Start programs.

For all of the dire warnings, Obama acknowledged Wednesday that the cuts are “not a cliff, but it is a tumble downward.” He’ll set the cuts in motion on Friday with a stroke of his pen.

He is required to sign an order enacting the spending cuts by 11:59 p.m. Friday and will do so privately, White House press secretary Jay Carney said Thursday.

Before that happens, Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will meet with top congressional leaders: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker John Boehner and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

But Friday is seen by many as too late to reach a deal averting the cuts, especially with Congress out of town for the weekend.

After Obama signs the order, the Office of Management and Budget will send to Congress a detailed accounting of the cuts – how much from which agencies and which accounts. Every "program, project and activity" has to be trimmed without regard for what it is, according to the OMB.

Those who are employed by the government or rely on federal agencies’ spending are expected to feel the effects first. From there, the effects of the sequester will ripple outward across the economy.

The Obama administration has said the law gives them no leeway to spare one budget line at the expense of another, and insiders expect the cuts to be about 9% for nondefense programs and 13% for defense accounts.

What agencies do have some discretion over is how they roll out the cuts. In some cases, furloughs and other cuts could be backloaded, scheduling them to take effect at a greater rate later in the year in hopes that Congress will reach a deal to replace the sequester that has so far been elusive.

OMB sent affected federal agencies a letter on Wednesday reminding them to prepare for the cuts. Some agencies have already given employees their official 30-day notice of upcoming furloughs. Others are expected to follow soon, and budget uncertainty has already caused some agencies to cut back.

Congress delayed the cuts from triggering in January at the time of the fiscal cliff. The two month delay from January 1 to March 1, however, made the cuts steeper than the original 5% for nondefense spending and 8% for defense programs.

Not everyone is convinced these forced spending cuts are a bad idea. Some deficit hawks see them as one way to reduce ballooning federal spending and others who favor reducing military spending see their virtue, too.

Altogether, the cuts will amount to some $85 billion dollars this fiscal year, which ends September 30.

While today means the end to one fiscal showdown, fans of Washington financial wrangling have another date to anticipate: March 27. That’s the deadline for Congress to extend the continuing resolution that’s funding the government.

– CNNMoney.com’s Jeanne Sahadi and CNN’s Gregory Wallace contributed to this report


Filed under: Budget • Deficit
soundoff (775 Responses)
  1. mattski

    The GOP make me laugh. Blame Obama because he doesn't want massive spending cuts, then blame him when he wants to let the cuts go through, but NEVER take any steps to do anything about it yourselves. Can you say, "inept"?

    March 1, 2013 09:28 am at 9:28 am |
  2. danita

    It's amazing how nothing is ever cut for folks who have been free loading for years. They never have anything to worry about other than their check is late from the gov.

    March 1, 2013 09:28 am at 9:28 am |
  3. spooledup

    CNN is so full of it. A day of massive spending cuts?? LOL...it's only a cut in the rate of growth, and a small one at that. CNN licking the obama boots again.

    March 1, 2013 09:28 am at 9:28 am |
  4. manhantiam

    The American middle class took a spending cut the beginning 2013 when the two percent payroll tax reduction expired. But now when our government is asked to take a similar cut Obama is trapezing around the country preaching doom and gloom. His theatrics is getting tiresome. Time to get off the campaign trail and start acting the President of the United States.

    March 1, 2013 09:29 am at 9:29 am |
  5. Bill Davis

    I have been Present for 4 plus years, we have never had and do not need a budget...
    Raise the taxes, we need more money , It is just that simple.

    March 1, 2013 09:29 am at 9:29 am |
  6. Namemicmacman

    well,here we go again with leaders that don't lead. it's time to fire the lot. that'll save BIG buks. seriously, why do we stand for this...is it time for another revolution...overdue. the british learned the hard way and its time for our elite political leaders to be thrown out in the street.

    March 1, 2013 09:30 am at 9:30 am |
  7. Steve

    What does it matter whose responsibility it is? The fact is that the representation we the people have, has failed to serve us again, and has taken every opportunity to try to one-up the other party, at our expense. Games are for children, and we're about to pay the cost for these guys. Sweep them out, every one, next chance you get. Send that message, and hope the party strategists notice.

    March 1, 2013 09:30 am at 9:30 am |
  8. kmp

    If government workers are forced to take days without pay then I say Congress can too. Being they aren't working to get anything done so may as well not pay them for work not done.

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

    If an $85B cut from a $3T+ budget is going to bring about the end of the world, what chance do we have of closing a $1T budget gap? Any cuts no matter where they are, are going to bring job losses.

    March 1, 2013 09:31 am at 9:31 am |
  10. Allen

    @ Joe
    "If you want to blame someone, blame the American people. The American people voted for leaders that are simply not qualified to be in office starting with Obama. Americans voted for failure and Obama delivered failure."

    so true.

    but also blame gerrymandering. Imagine if the poorest places in a city/county were "gerrymandered" to be in the same voting district as the richest places? Creating blocks of diverse voters that politicians have to represent. Instead of polarizing candidates that are only accountable to one sliver of the population, we would have candidates that are forced to compromise for their own political future? And what motivates a politician more than self interest? :D

    March 1, 2013 09:32 am at 9:32 am |
  11. Dave

    Isnt anyone surprised that he's signing this bill privately and not with a group of first responders or Newport News ship builders? Maybe he should have the next generation represented whose futures he's endangering with current deficit.

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

    I wish I could just say it is the president. It is not, however, it is the entire falilure of our government. This will ripple across the nation and cause pain for every American. What angers me is that with our budget out of control we still are giving aid to Syria. We are still giving out welfare yet we are cutting the paychecks of working Americans. That makes no sense to me. Then we have our congress on a long weekend. REALLY!!! I am about ready to lose 40% of my household income because both my husband and I are government employees. WE only turned to the government because they were the only ones hiring. Seriously this a dark day for America.

    March 1, 2013 09:32 am at 9:32 am |
  13. Gene

    Sequester Day 1: 170 million new jobless in all 57 states. Its every man for himself now.

    This just in: early reports of cannibalism, food hoarding cause panic, but later it was learned they all came from Michael Moore's house (thanks Twitchy)

    March 1, 2013 09:32 am at 9:32 am |
  14. Damon

    I'm so sick of hearing people complain about the 2% pay "cut" to there paychecks. What you really got the past 2 years was a temporary 2% pay INCREASE, because you've been paying less into Social Security. You only got that INCREASE in pay because of the Democrats, Republicans didn't want it. No one wanted it extended when it expired the end of 2012 because it shortchanges Social Security. So your paycheck now is what it would have been the past 2 years. Please educate yourself!

    March 1, 2013 09:32 am at 9:32 am |
  15. Bee

    "Today is the day massive spending cuts kick in" Massive? Since when is under 3% massive? What a joke.

    March 1, 2013 09:32 am at 9:32 am |
  16. Mark

    As a Government employee, I get to see my pay cut by 20 percent and this is after not receiving a pay increase in three years. Already struggling with what I currently earn, it is going to be quite a bit tougher making ends meet. I say we find out just how much our leaders in Washington care about our country by dropping their pay to $25 per hour. Clock in and out just like the rest of us. We'll either see them finally doing their jobs or they will quit.

    March 1, 2013 09:32 am at 9:32 am |
  17. Pat

    Yes, Congress's approval rating is in the toilet, but that doesn't matter because everyone thinks the guy they voted for is doing a good job and it's everybody else that sucks. Both sides need to take blame and both sides need to stop pointing fingers. Some accountability from either Boehner, Cantor, Pelosi or Obama would be nice, but I'm guessing we'll just see the blame game, as always. American politicians rival Nigerian politicians in corruption and their ability to do absolutely nothing.

    March 1, 2013 09:33 am at 9:33 am |
  18. Gene

    Sequester Day 1: 170 million new jobless in all 57 states. Its every man for himself now.

    March 1, 2013 09:33 am at 9:33 am |
  19. Ken Hoag

    Stop with the drama... 17 trillion in debt and no one can handle a 2% cut in spending? Give me back my 2% in my payroll check! OMG... the sky is falling!!!! OMG!!!

    March 1, 2013 09:33 am at 9:33 am |
  20. charles

    Can't believe somebody in DC came to their senses and we are CUTTING SPENDING for a change. Does angola still get 10 billion this year????

    March 1, 2013 09:33 am at 9:33 am |
  21. tbuckman

    The title of this article says it all! The people in Washington, on both sides, the media, the lobbyists...none of them REALLY believe in cutting the size of our bloated federal govt. This is why things haven't really changed! So glad this is happening!

    March 1, 2013 09:33 am at 9:33 am |
  22. nonameyet

    Welcome sequester to the world! I know many don't like you but I believe you are going to save US.

    March 1, 2013 09:33 am at 9:33 am |
  23. rtrauben

    red states need to bleed to see the impact of their beliefs, actions and politicians ob their own lives.
    its a shame to see alot of innocent people get hurt by health-education-and welfare while theses
    states get a taste of their own medicne and learn a lesson.

    after cuts make citizens lives miserable, lets hope that the constituents remove their representatives
    especially mr mcconnell (kentucky), mr boehner (ohiio) and mr cantor(virginia).

    we could also do without harry reid who had the chance and failed to do the peoples will by
    supporting the tyrany of the minority in both the fillibuster and gun control issues.

    gun control doesnt have a chance until a conservative politician is gunned down and that
    corporate tax loophole reform doesnt have a chance until the red states bleed profusely.

    March 1, 2013 09:34 am at 9:34 am |
  24. TheTraveler

    Bah. The runaway fiscal train has been rushing out of control for decades ... Let the cuts happen and be a wake up call to American citizens, those that voted and those that didn't. We deserve the government we get and the consequences of electing and reelecting people who are ineffective in running it.

    March 1, 2013 09:34 am at 9:34 am |
  25. Howard

    The Democrats think the answer is to raise taxes to pay for what they believe the majority of voters want. The Republicans believe the answer is to cut programs without regard for what the majority of the voters want.

    One of two things will happen. Either we're going to find out it won't be all that painful and we can live with it, or we're going to finally realize that we have to pay more to get more. If it's the former, the Democrats will score in the 2014 elections. If it's the latter, then the Republicans may improve their control of the Congress in 2014.

    What we're seeing here is high stakes political poker, and both players have gone "all in."

    March 1, 2013 09:35 am at 9:35 am |
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