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

-’s Jeanne Sahadi and CNN’s Gregory Wallace contributed to this report

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

    The blame goes to the American voter who has abdicated responsibility for being properly informed and choosing qualified candidates. Instead they allowed bankers, corporations, insurance companies to rule ( with the help of the Supreme Court).
    As a consequence and in line with pure justice the American people RICHLY deserve the suffering which will surely follow. We have no government. We are in a state of anarchy and do not know it.

    March 1, 2013 10:24 am at 10:24 am |
  2. Wayne

    Spending needs to stop somewhere so let it begin here and now. There is no making up the mess that both parties’ politicians have created. President Obama is just another politician no different from any republican other than his patrician views. None of them can be trusted to run anything. But with that said the spending is out of control and has to stop so cut are needed.

    March 1, 2013 10:25 am at 10:25 am |
  3. JoeS

    Um... Most of you are missing one little point. The so called "spending cuts" are not actually cuts. They are cuts to the INCREASES they were supposed to get. With sequestration, defense increases 18% (vs. 20%); nondefense discretionary increases 12% (vs. 14%); Medicare roughly increases at the same rate; and net interest increases 136% (vs. 152%).

    March 1, 2013 10:25 am at 10:25 am |
  4. Realityblowz

    Obama's bluff has been called. The sky is falling......yawn...

    March 1, 2013 10:25 am at 10:25 am |
  5. newscale62

    The philosophical issue at hand is whether taxing can be used as an agent for change. A historical precedent has already been established that the answer is yes. Just as the banks have little motivation to compromise their financial welfare in regard to the mortgage crisis, the wealthy have not been given a motivation to capitulate. All the players involved will now realize that when proactive change cannot occur, a third option or catalyst will execute a change in the absence of reason.

    March 1, 2013 10:25 am at 10:25 am |
  6. Time for a new deal

    A government that does half of their job should have their spending privileges cut in half. 8% & 13% is way too soft on these children. I call for 50% spending cuts until we have a system that actually works. The time of unlimited credit was over many years ago. Somebody call Ron Paul he'll give some idea of what to do just like he's been trying for decades.

    March 1, 2013 10:25 am at 10:25 am |
  7. Pakrat

    Oh no! When will we hit the bottom! LOL. THis whole thing is a joke, just political posturing. A.K.A. business as usual in Washington.

    March 1, 2013 10:25 am at 10:25 am |
  8. johnathanness

    We're overspending by $1.5 trillion and $85 billion in cuts is "massive"? Even if pro-rated over an entire year, that amounts to cutting our deficit by about 10%. You want massive cuts in the deficit, try raising taxes, especially on the rich, slashing foreign aid money, and changing welfare so that those who can actually work don't get a lifelong free ride.

    March 1, 2013 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  9. John

    Anyone know if Holder is going to pay back the millions he wasted on federal private jets he used for personal reasons?

    March 1, 2013 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  10. Frustrated

    I believe if anyone on the job failed at meeting a deadline they would be either reprimanded or fired. Well that is what they have done and thus should feel the Americans wrath at the next few elections.

    March 1, 2013 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  11. Lynne Buchanan

    @rs. Did you ever hear of a promise made in the campaign of 2008 to bring the spending under control? What is it with everything mentioned that Obama is doing wrong, brings up Bush. Instead of offering a legitimate reason for what Obama's doing, supporters just find someone else who has not done well, either - usually Bush. Can you say ad hominem?
    The truth is, we cannot keep spending what we don't have - it doesn't matter who else spent out of control!

    March 1, 2013 10:27 am at 10:27 am |
  12. Chris

    It is amazing each party wants to blame the other. The truth is, both parties are to blame. They each had a part in creating this mess. And if people can not see this, they are part of problem too!

    March 1, 2013 10:27 am at 10:27 am |
  13. n222s

    To all of you who are bringing up Bush (again and again and again). Let's assume he was the absolute worst President EVER, EVER, EVER. Now, aren't you also making the case for not investing too much power in the Federal government? NOT because it is bad or Obama is bad (not saying he is). However, money is power. And by sending too much money to DC to be distributed aren't we taking the chance that another horrible, evil Bush may be elected again and use that power to harm us again?

    Government which is closest to us is much, much easier to watch and change. I'm not speaking of "state's rights" or some other silly argument for it or against it. I am saying that if the Federal government was relied upon less, perhaps we could watch over how we are governed a little more closely.

    It could start by reducing their power by reducing their money.

    March 1, 2013 10:27 am at 10:27 am |
  14. mike

    This is a BIG cut. People focus on the percentage, but it's not an across the board cut. It's focused on a very few specific thing. So while it may only be a tiny percentage as it pertains to the entire budget, the percentage of the individual budgets that are being cut are MUCH MUCH bigger. For example, the government is by far the biggest backer of scientific research spending, and we're on the cusp of obliterating that. This is NOT the time for our country to fall behind in science. Just one example.

    March 1, 2013 10:27 am at 10:27 am |
  15. tuscany590

    How is it that Obama has all the old Clinton people around him, and he can't get the economy fixed like Slick Willy did..Could it be that Clinton had a GOP Congress & Obama raised the debt 5 trillion because he had complete control of Congress??

    March 1, 2013 10:27 am at 10:27 am |
  16. well

    a much smaller government of 1% is much better for 99%. cut it away!

    March 1, 2013 10:28 am at 10:28 am |
  17. Gregory Faith

    Right! Who'd figure they would do nothing.

    March 1, 2013 10:28 am at 10:28 am |
  18. Evin

    It is time to do away with the whole political system. Two parties solely looking out only for "themselves" and no the interests of the people or Country! People need to wake up, this is no longer a Democracy and hasn't been in a very long time. We live in a corporate society with Elitist group running it. They "make" the rules but they don't apply to them. For those thinking this is a good thing, you don't understand that it comes on the backs of hard working people taking the brunt of it. You really think that all those weapon system orders will get cancelled or reduced, we quit sending aid to other countries instead of taking care of our own, our politicians (not leaders) will take pay cuts or even "NOT" vote themselves a cost of living pay increase...please!

    March 1, 2013 10:28 am at 10:28 am |
  19. johnathanness

    To coin Arnaud Amalric, "Fire them all and let God sort them out."

    March 1, 2013 10:28 am at 10:28 am |
  20. Yoshi Togukawa

    The GOP wants to act tough. They are a weakened party. On the other side, both parties are just gesturing with no concrete action. America`s political system is broken. Time to replace it with the good old Parliamentary system and get the gridlock off the books

    March 1, 2013 10:29 am at 10:29 am |
  21. Anonymous

    "Today is the day lawmakers have known about since August 2011. The day massive spending cuts kick in."


    March 1, 2013 10:30 am at 10:30 am |
  22. Jay jay

    Ok CNN. I heard nothing from your news org when Obama himself wasted a half a trillion on his failed energy company. Where was your outrage then? These cuts after all represent a fraction of what he wasted on just one mentioned debacle. Where was the folks outrage then I ask???

    March 1, 2013 10:30 am at 10:30 am |
  23. Heather

    We, the normal people are having to budget and learn how to reduce our spending, so why is it too much to ask Obama to do the same? I'm sorry people, but he keeps wanting us to pay for what he wants to spend, that is an issue. He wants to keep taxing, so he can keep spending. We can't do that, so he shouldn't be able to either. You need to quit believing his excuses and look at the position we are in now, because you keep listening and believing him, it's only going to get worse from here!

    March 1, 2013 10:30 am at 10:30 am |
  24. Rudy NYC

    Can anyone explain why Senator McCain is attending this "sequester summit" at the White House today? Which Senate committee is he serving on that justifies his attendance? I think he's there just give himself some relevance.

    Better yet, is he the lead Republican on any committee on which he serves? No. Senator McCain has expired all of his term limits to be the lead member for his party on ANY existing Senate committees. This is why he's always trying to attach himself to new stuff like: Benghazi hearings and Sequesration hearings, if you could even call it that.

    March 1, 2013 10:31 am at 10:31 am |
  25. John Illinois

    Obama has completely toned down his doomsday rhetoric regarding his sequester; because he was lying through his teeth to get what he wanted. Obama, live up to your compromise and just cut spending and this all goes away. Cut off all government aid to illegal alien criminals and cut foreign aid! These two affect no LEGAL American citizens!

    March 1, 2013 10:31 am at 10:31 am |
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