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. rhemi553

    obama couldn't lead a group of girl scouts on a neighborhood cookie sales campaign... all he is good at is getting elected.

    March 1, 2013 09:49 am at 9:49 am |
  2. John

    And the sad thing is that the Sequester was created in case our leaders failed to accomplish their work and to automatically kick in. Gee, wanna see my surprised face? And work (the $85B cuts) gets done even if they aren't in town today. The cuts will kick in and at the next election you'll get kicked out. How about cut the pork you provide in your own districts and do something right for ALL American and not just the special interests and asset sucking lobbyists.

    March 1, 2013 09:49 am at 9:49 am |
  3. dsangiovanni

    GOP is penalizing the people who voted for Obama. They should get a lesson on how to behave like adults, people are not stupids, we do not forget what you all are doing. Next elections you will regret it..

    March 1, 2013 09:49 am at 9:49 am |
  4. Sunny

    Just my 2 cents. I worked within the VA healthcare system for a time. There is SO much waste there it is mind boggling. I am sure there is waste everywhere, but I am not kidding when I say the waste you see at VA hospitals. Va Hospitals are over funded but yet the care to vets is not all the stellar.

    March 1, 2013 09:49 am at 9:49 am |
  5. John Sherman

    One day closer to the Revolution. Folks, you ain't seen nuttin yet. Makes me wonder what our military thinks it's actually defending anymore.

    March 1, 2013 09:49 am at 9:49 am |
  6. earleen

    Since they refuse to do their job-fire them -no pay, benefits, etc until a solution is reached-when it is -they pay a 1 month penalty $ 10,000 for being stupid. I agree with Paul and Bill-what a bunch of losers-only its costing the American people big time.

    March 1, 2013 09:50 am at 9:50 am |
  7. Jeff

    Why does your story point such a big finger at "lawmakers" and not include the "President". When HE is the author of he cuts? Obama demanded this date and these cuts. Obama has known about it prior to August 2011. Obama refused to negotiate in good faith. I have an idea: why don't your "reporters" leave their Marxist bias at home and report the news objectively? What happened to the "watch dog media"? Your reporters are lap dogs for Obama.

    March 1, 2013 09:50 am at 9:50 am |
  8. drrichard

    Congress is incapable of controlling its spending, in part because it gets so much money from big business and special interests (thank you Supreme Court for Citizens United). But there is plenty of blame to go around through many elections and many presidents. I saw an estimate yesterday that "Homeland Security"–a stupid and vicious term if there ever was one–has gotten something like $791 billion dollars since 2001, much of it wasted or duplicating other work (but good for industry and contractors), then you have the pointless sinkholes of Iraq and Afghanistan, the law that says Medicare can't negotiate drug prices with the pharmaceutical companies, over 700 (and growing) US bases and troop sites around the world, subsidies for oil companies, big tax breaks for major companies, and on and on. None of this is effectively being controlled, but there are plenty of officials who say the problem is social security or the postal service or anything else that the poor and middle class depend on. They don't give enough, donations.

    March 1, 2013 09:50 am at 9:50 am |
  9. DougJ

    It's only $85 billion out of a $3.6 trillion budget. This should go through, but it's not nearly enough.

    March 1, 2013 09:50 am at 9:50 am |
  10. Frank

    Oh I'm so scared. What will I do without all my government services? I need government looking after me and telling me what to think. Help, I'm lost.

    March 1, 2013 09:50 am at 9:50 am |
  11. Darin

    We need to multiply this $85B by 10 times.... then maybe, JUST MAYBE we'll be somewhere close to balancing the budget! It'll never happen, 'tho. The Liberals will just find ways to tax and spend more. If this Government were a private industry it would have failed decades ago.

    March 1, 2013 09:51 am at 9:51 am |
  12. Ren

    Can't wait for the election next year, so that we can boot those losers out of office! You can't work together for the good of the people, then get out!!

    March 1, 2013 09:51 am at 9:51 am |
  13. Latino GOP?

    I have been with the GOP for the last 30 years.....I'm jumping ship...Hasta la vista GOP!

    March 1, 2013 09:51 am at 9:51 am |
  14. Kenoscope

    Fire them all, put in independents, enact a law with a two year term limit for all congress and get back to work. it is what they were hired to do. If you hire someone and they fail to do the job you hired them for you fire them and hire someone else.

    Who is causing this? The Party of No.

    March 1, 2013 09:52 am at 9:52 am |
  15. William Norris

    Retroactively, we stop paying the salaries of the President and all members of Congress beginning with January 1, 2013. Second, we call up the National Zoo and have them drop in some monkeys (doesn't matter the species) and see what they can do. At least when they start flinging crap we'll know its real crap.

    My opinion: Fire everyone of them and get business people in there who can balance a budget. Hey, better yet, get some mothers and fathers who have had to do a budget for years to keep their households above water.

    March 1, 2013 09:53 am at 9:53 am |
  16. Name

    Grover Norquist... Thank you for your dictatorship

    March 1, 2013 09:53 am at 9:53 am |
  17. Sara

    It's easy for some of you people to talk about being glad this spending cut is going through...what about the people that are being affected? The government employees who are already on such a tight budget now have to figure out how to pay their bills and feed their families because they are losing 20% of their paycheck. I'd like to see you try to live off a cut like that when you already live paycheck to paycheck. This was the worst idea they could have come up. Cutting pet projects of Congress would have been a much smarter way to go instead of taking away from people that have already been beaten down. It just never stops.

    March 1, 2013 09:53 am at 9:53 am |
  18. myway

    What, no public presiential signing of this avoidable calamity? The irony is, there is no federal budget in place so the cuts must be assumed just like the current spending plan. Brilliant. We have an imaginary budget with imaginary cuts that somehow result in people getting fired and air traffic throttled. All this while our lawmakers enjoy a leisurely long weekend. Obama made a huge mistake when he negotiated the sequester deal. He should have included pay cuts for congress. That would have ensured this problem being solved long ago.

    March 1, 2013 09:53 am at 9:53 am |
  19. GregOPauls

    Yeah, finely some government cuts. This was the plan the abomination wrote up and now they are trying to blame it on the Republicans. what a joke the donkey party is to this nation. Why doesn't the senate work on passing a budget. Why doesn't the white house work on uniting the nation instead of accessing blame and portraying the cuts as national security risk or an economic disaster. It is more like cutting $0.125 from every dollar from you personal household income. The HORROR!!!

    March 1, 2013 09:54 am at 9:54 am |
  20. Wallster

    I love how people compare the federal governments budget to their own situations. You don't collect from all your neighbors for years and then cover their medical and living expenses, you don't pay to fix all the damage for your neighbors when a tornado levels their homes, you don't make sure your neighbors drinking water isn't poisoned, and you don't have to defend the entire neighborhood should a foreign attack occur. The Government collects our tax money to keep use towards the better good of our citizens. The people that preach about runaway spending don't understand that these cuts affect American citizens while maintaining tax subsidies for huge profitable corporations. The President is asking for a fair approach which includes cutting some excessive costs in social programs but he's also asking for tax loopholes for yacht owners and dressage horse owners to be cut. Boehner and his party are against any of these tax loopholes that he's acknowledged in the past. So if we want to compare our personal budgets this sequester is like reviewing your personal budget and instead of cutting that brand new Rolls Royce in the driveway, you are choosing to cut your kids food instead. (Then you can blame your kids because they were complaining about spending too much).

    March 1, 2013 09:55 am at 9:55 am |
  21. D.J. Lachance

    This has all of the makings for a satire of the movie Dr. Strangelove, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love The Bomb.

    The movie title could be Dr. Toughlove, Or How I Learned to Stopy Worrying and Love The Sequester.

    The plot could center around coffee imports not making it into the U.S. because of the lack of food inspectors to get them in, and the U.S. goes into caffeine withdrawal.

    March 1, 2013 09:55 am at 9:55 am |
  22. dwight

    The crazy part is that Congress tried to give the President power to make cuts to certain progams that weren't important since the President was the one to empower the Sequester, but he miscalculated and expected Congress to fold and add more taxes. We need to cut the pork. The Washington pig is fat enough and it is out senators, etc that feed it more. The government is set up to waste money and they would rather bleed us dry then cut back on the money they take from us.

    March 1, 2013 09:55 am at 9:55 am |
  23. Buckwheat

    Well, I just walked outside and the sun is still in the sky. The sky is still blue. There's still air to breathe.

    Pffft!!! Some doomsday.

    March 1, 2013 09:55 am at 9:55 am |
  24. Ken

    Take another look at that picture folks. I see two well men in tailored suits sitting in leather chairs having a cup of coffee in china cups trimmed in gold. Do you really think they care about us? All we are to them is a source of income.

    March 1, 2013 09:55 am at 9:55 am |
  25. pmd

    This government is an embarassment. The world looks at us to see what we are doing and they see our government unable to work together and make their coubtry stronger and better. Yet we try to help others be a stronger and better country. If we cannot take care of ourselves, then we have no place trying to help others. Get your act together and do the right thing adn work together. All you are doing now is screwing over hundreds of thousands of people, based on your own moral objectives. This is not a personal thing....... this is a country thing. Stop thinking personally and think of the greater good...the people that put you in office..the people that are the fabric of this country. Grow up and get to work now or just resign since you seem to not be able to handle your job.

    March 1, 2013 09:55 am at 9:55 am |
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