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. dwight

    The sequester is not a new thing as it has happened once before and it then it was gone. Now the recession that we had and still have is noticable. The Ides of March? Please. Obama asked for and would have vetoed the bill if he didn't have it put in and then he complains that it is not a good thing and that it is the GOP fault. Obama clearly doesn't know how to take charge except when it is in regards to spending. He is like a teenager in a shopping mall with his parents credit card.

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

    Obama and Lew created it as a compromise for Obama to get his tax increase and the debt ceiling raised. Obama got what he wanted so he now has to live up to his side; cut spending. His buddy Axelrod says this was never meant to move forward....that mean Obama was playing a game of chicken with the economy and all of us....and lost! The jerk should NEVER be playing a game of chicken with the American citizens at stake. Up until now, what has Obama done to address the economy.....Nothing. He is too busy running around campaigning for gun banning and gay garbage. 85 billion in cuts is nothing and does not even result in a cut, just reduces an increase in spending. He can choose where cuts are made and here are two that do not affect American citizens and would result in more than 85 billion.....cut off all government aid and services to illegal alien criminals and cut foreign aid. But you and your administration are too busy pushing for illegal alien criminal amnesty and just released a whole bunch of them into our society. Obama and his administration are an epic failure!

    March 1, 2013 10:11 am at 10:11 am |
  3. Name

    It's time to cut the needless spending . Stop the waste and the threats and do your jobs . Aid to other countries . Giving F15s and billions of dallors to other countries when the resources are much needed her sound a little silly to me ...just saying ...

    March 1, 2013 10:11 am at 10:11 am |
  4. Anonymous

    This is not just the GOP's fault, this is on Obama too

    March 1, 2013 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  5. BostonSteve

    Obama takes no responsibility and blames the GOP, the Tea Party, GW Bush, Global Warming, Big Oil, YouTube videos, the war in Afghanistan, the Iraq war, conservatives, and even the founding fathers...will this administration ever take responsibility for anything negative?

    March 1, 2013 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  6. jackmex

    How do we have 60 millions dollars to give to Syria but not enough money to give to our people???? I think the government should start taking care of its own before taking care of other countries.

    March 1, 2013 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  7. dennis

    I blame all the Politicians for this. But sorry I do have to place most on the Republican Party for not caring about those of us who cannot aford the cuts. They care nothing for us and only wnat to help the Wealthy who line their pockets with donations for their re-election. Once and for all you are elected to serve ALL THE if's, and's or but's stop all Pay to these do nothing politicans.

    March 1, 2013 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  8. jondoe61

    Both parties should be thrown out-in a country that's hurting badly-none of these clowns wanted to take the necessary steps and get the job done.

    March 1, 2013 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  9. Norm

    Our dysfunctional government that we pay very well to accomplish nothing.

    March 1, 2013 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  10. M.Miller

    Shame on the GOP and Tea Party for continuing their relentless attacks on Obama at the expense of the American people. You fools are just putting the final nail in your own 2016 coffin. Disgraceful conduct!

    March 1, 2013 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  11. Ed1

    Nobody to blame for this except Obama he signed off on it and so did the House and Senate.

    Obama has to learn you can't continue to spend what you don't have and it's less than three percent over ten years. Obama will triple the debt before he leaves office anyway so what difference does this make.

    Wallster, I guess you forgot we were attacked and over three thousand people were killed on US soil.

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

    So Obama has been all over the news telling us how terrible this is going to be and how all these people are going to get laid off. Now the day before it is to start he shows up on the news and says "well it's not really going to be that bad". So they were just using those tactics to try to scare people into backing their plan. Of course at the last minute as usual he backs down and changes his story when he figures out the American people really do not care if they have to cut spending.

    March 1, 2013 10:14 am at 10:14 am |
  13. CJ

    This scenario is not the end of the world and I recommend that we keep on having a fallback position on cuts if neither party is willing to compromise. The article is a little misleading when it uses the term massive cuts. The United States will have to cut spending 3%. I do not consider that massive. I am a Democrat who is moderate and am fine with this.

    March 1, 2013 10:14 am at 10:14 am |
  14. John

    Obama...Leadership you can believe in!! Hope and Change is here at last!!

    March 1, 2013 10:14 am at 10:14 am |
  15. Jeb

    "I got 98% of what I wanted." John Boehner speaking about the sequester deal.

    Republicans have been screaming "slash spending..slash spending!" They got their way and millions of people are about to be laid off.

    Now they're saying its Obama's fault.

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

    I am naive to politics, clearly...but why does one set of my friends lambaste democrats over and over again for not pulling in spending...stop with the spending, just check book out of control! SPENDING TOO MUCH!

    now there are forced cuts to spending...."he's ruined the economy! This cut of spending will be devastating!"

    Then I have a group on the other side after 9/11 "we must do SOMETHING! Give them more power! sign anything you need to get us safe again!' and now they're all "NO RIGHTS! The wars are EVIL!' "COST COST COST!!"

    And this is why I will forever be independent.

    March 1, 2013 10:14 am at 10:14 am |
  17. rs

    Today the GOP looks like Herbert Hoover just before the '29 crash. "No worries"!
    We'll see. They are actively killing their ability to win elections for a long time to come.

    March 1, 2013 10:15 am at 10:15 am |
  18. An American

    I read an article this morning that scientists can now conclusively tell how fast a black hole is spinning and that black hole is 60 million light years away! It's amazing to me that we as a nation have produced minds like that that can give us such information. It's also amazing to me that this nation has produced such minds in our own government that can't even sit down and figure out how to deal with the problems of this country. They would rather argue, bicker, and point fingers at one another and say it's the other guys fault...Just remember, as you point one finger away, there are three pointing back! I do not believe that there is one democrat or one republican that even cares about the part of America that voted them into office. They are in office, they have their own agenda, and to heck with the rest of America. They are so proud of themselves that they took a long weekend even as this problem looms. They should all be ashamed of themselves. While they take a long weekend, many others are now trying to figure out what they are going to do if they lose their jobs. I for one am fed up with it.

    March 1, 2013 10:15 am at 10:15 am |
  19. whodacares

    They left for the weekend on Thursday? I wonder how many hours they actually work in an average week. Maybe they should be paid minimum wage by the hour and then they would actually do something?

    March 1, 2013 10:16 am at 10:16 am |
  20. Anonymous

    Both Congress & Mr Do nothing but make TV appearances President are too blame for this

    March 1, 2013 10:16 am at 10:16 am |
  21. n222s

    Let's assume that Obama is the smartest, most honest, wisest, etc. person to ever be President. However, lets STOP assuming that his abilities transfer all the way down to every cabinet member, department head all the way down to the lowliest person on the federal pay scale. In other words, regardless of his greatness, those abilities, depply flawed people are still at every level of government. More so than the private sector? Maybe yes, maybe no.

    However, there is ONE big difference. Should a private concern have too many incompetents in place they will go out of business. That does not happen with government. And to me, that is just one of many reasons why too much power and money vested in the federal government is a bad thing. Obama is not bad, government is not bad. But too much can be bad.

    Another problem with the Fed government. If a department is budgeted for 1 billion dollars in a year but only uses 900 million to accomplish their tasks they may lose the 100 million. They are incentivized to spend all of that money for fear of losing some of that money. In the private sector you are praised for coming in under budget (not always, but often). Again, Obama isn't bad. Government isn't bad, but this incentive is a bad thing.

    March 1, 2013 10:16 am at 10:16 am |
  22. Trajk Logik

    With all the fear-mongering about what will happen if the cuts go into effect, it is evident that our elected officials really think that there is no waste in government spending. Government is the biggest wasteful spender there is. As a spouse of a public school teacher, I see and hear about all the wasted money at just one school. If our representatives can't find something to cut besides needed programs then this is evidence that they shouldn't be in the position they are in and should be voted out as soon as possible, regardless of party affiliation. And those that believe that the government is spending your money in the most highly efficient way, then they are part of the problem as well.

    March 1, 2013 10:16 am at 10:16 am |
  23. onebro5

    Both Congress & Mr Do nothing but make TV appearances President are too blame for this

    March 1, 2013 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
  24. n222s

    LOL, my spelling is depply and deeply flawed as well!

    March 1, 2013 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
  25. Frank

    The house and senate are paid over 100,000,000.00 in annual salaries alone, this does include their trips, parties etc. This is where the cuts need to take place. In 2008 when the U.S. was on the verge of another depression the U.S. senate gave themselves a raise knowing damn well the American people could not afford it. These are the men and women we trust balancing the U.S. budget.

    March 1, 2013 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
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