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. RWG

    For the most part we have a worthless bunch of idiots running our country. What a joke, no real attempt at compromise. I'm an independant and personally I am voting everyone out of office that is currently in office in the next election. Maybe if more of us would do that we could send a real message to these folks.

    March 1, 2013 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  2. Mike D

    You all are being hoodwinked, 85 billion is a drop in the bucket, we burn through that in a matter of days running this country.

    March 1, 2013 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  3. RandyIA

    For all of you not blaming Obama, who do you blame for the problems of 2006-2008?

    March 1, 2013 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  4. s. Deal

    Face It - the $ account is ZERO. No one wins. It will be at $0 at the end of March '13. Understand Zero.

    March 1, 2013 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  5. dcs

    I simply cannot understand the division between dems and rep. Why must you be one or the other just to do what is right for the people of this country?
    And I simply cannot understand the apathy of the majority of US citizens. If you are fed up with what is happening to ANY aspect of our governance, you have the right and the obligation to do something about it. WE are just as culpable for our current economical situation as any elected official; local, state or federal.

    March 1, 2013 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  6. lel2007

    Democrats like to pretend that every last penny of government spending is wise, benevolent and essential. My guess is that perhaps 15 percent of discretionary spending meets all three of those criteria, but we'll never know because government programs are rarely evaluated for effectiveness, efficiency or necessity. According to the Government Accountability Office, the government runs 50 different programs for the homeless across eight agencies, 23 programs for housing aid in four agencies, 26 programs for food and nutrition aid among six agencies, 27 programs on teen pregnancy, 130 programs for at-risk youth, 10 agencies to promote exports and 342 programs for economic development. The federal government runs 47 different job-training programs at a cost to the taxpayer of $18 billion annually. The GAO found that "Only 5 of the 47 programs ... examined had done detailed impact studies" and that among those "the effects of participation were not consistent across programs, with only some demonstrating positive impacts that tended to be small, inconclusive, or restricted to short-term impacts."

    March 1, 2013 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  7. Al

    This is what happens when there is a group of people that want to protect the country and not let it squander away what it does not have, and their is another side that just wants to give away the Washington Monument to make the takers happy. Never will the two sides agree, but I know that at my house, I can't spend my way out of debt it just does not work.

    March 1, 2013 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  8. Sean

    Obama = Leadership FAIL.

    March 1, 2013 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  9. Seth

    US Senate, you have failed the American People. You have embarrassed America in front of the world. You let this happen because you are so out of touch with reality and the struggles of real working American. You stood purely for YOUR convictions at the expense of the good of AMERICA. I am ashamed of you all.

    March 1, 2013 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  10. Jeff

    I am an independent and did not like Bush and now Obama for not creating consensus like Clinton. A good leader creates consensus and unite people. Remember that Clinton had Newt. A skilled politician like Bush and Obama threaten, divide, isolate and conquer.

    March 1, 2013 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  11. BlackDynamite

    The government can be more efficient. They can learn to spend more wisely.....

    March 1, 2013 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  12. OldSchool

    These people are such worthless pieces of %#&@. I like how Dana Bash ambushed all of the cowards leaving for their long weekend, none of these people can sympathize with the common man. You can't expect these people to increase taxes on the rich when they are all largely a part of that demographic...

    March 1, 2013 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  13. Ttom

    The DoD just bought $600 billion worth of fighter jets. I guess those dirt huts over in the middle east are being built by stricter building codes these days.

    March 1, 2013 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  14. LC

    I find it odd that the services that are being cut are the essential government services that benefit everybody in the country. Why not cut services that benefit a select few which they do not pay for? The cuts should come from social services such as housing, welfare and food stamps who benefit a small part of society and are paid for by the vast majority who don't collect such services. Why are the services that I pay for and expect to get, which I consider the only function of the government, being cut while services to undeserving people are being extended?

    March 1, 2013 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  15. Nick

    "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."

    Maybe the cuts should start here...

    March 1, 2013 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  16. phearis

    Congressional Republicans and Democrats are unwilling to do their jobs and stupid people blame Obama. Yep, Yep.

    March 1, 2013 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  17. Michael McCarthy

    I'm not sure what you're looking at, but since the implementation of the graduated income tax the poor have NEVER bore the burden of taxes.

    March 1, 2013 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  18. jack fitzgerald

    Can anyone get the President to stop playing politics (the rich are screwing you! The system is rigged for the rich! More taxes!! More taxes!!) and dividing the country? Is there a mute button we could hit for the next 4 years or until he actually just sits down and does some work so he'll then have something of substance to talk to us about?

    Our government is taking on trillions and trillions of debt every 6 months and he wants to talk about class envy and marriage fairness. how about "we" get to work?!!!

    March 1, 2013 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  19. Felicia

    I love how Congress left town on THURSDAY!! The best was when the one Congressman tried to justify it by saying he is just a plane ride away and he goes home every weekend to see his family. Hm, not sure about y'all but my weekend starts at 5pm FRIDAY!! Love to know the cost of those plane trips.

    March 1, 2013 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  20. EBrock

    Cut all those drones and smart bombs that we don't need against third world terrorist........What are the tanks for? Why do we waste money on nukes! We are not going to use them! Chemical weapons for what! No one country will use them on us....

    March 1, 2013 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  21. Derek

    I think each state should lose a Representative and cut some of the senators salaries for the so called "Sequester". If they can do it the the American economy, then why not them. If they feel they were going to get laid off, I believe there would have been a resolution by now. Vote all of them out!

    March 1, 2013 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  22. janet

    Wait a minute, I a tax payer demand that Congress and any Senators head back to town and pay for the airfare that you just used to go home on, this is a tax expense I do not wish to pay for, you get a paycheck pay your own way like all of us.

    March 1, 2013 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  23. Anonymous

    For the record I'm an independant so I'd like to present me opinion as unbiased. This seems to be a very political situation (unfortunately) but it seems in this case the Repubs have the upper hand. What's on the table is $85B in expense cuts and if no one budges the Dem's need to cave for the sake of the country and agree to $85B of cuts in more sensible places. They Repubs and aready suggested and agree with this option. I see this as the same as the fiscal cliff debate only there the Dem's had the upperhand the Repub's caved and gave in on tax increases. Not saying any of this is ideal but it appears to be reality and if the Dem's don't step up and cave soon then they should own the political fall-out.

    March 1, 2013 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  24. well

    i prefer NO government than a really bad one like this one.

    March 1, 2013 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  25. Russell

    Why are we paying them? We electcted them to do a Job. If the budget cuts are requiring to suspend pay for all goverment empolyees, why does this make congress exsempt.

    March 1, 2013 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
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