Sequester explainer

The Sequester: Nation nears manditory budget cuts

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The March 1 deadline has come and gone for $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts to the federal budget known as sequestration.

Webster defines sequester as ... to set apart, or segregate. In Washington, it is a fancy word for forced spending cuts -- and an example of how political leaders in both parties have failed to do their most basic job. The United States has not had a real budget for 16 years.

President Barack Obama warns of major problems if Congress fails to reach an agreement on more targeted cuts to head off the automatic spending curbs that in the Budget Control Act passed and Obama signed in August 2011.

If this sounds familier, these mandated spending cuts were one part of the "fiscal cliff" facing the nation in December. At the last minute, Congress did agree to extend tax cuts everyone making under $400,000, but put off "sequestration" for 60 days.

If there is no agreement, $85 billion in federal budget cuts kick in -- 9 percent of non-defense spending and 13 percent of the Pentagon budget over the next seven months.

The only federal spending protected from the cuts:

  • Medicare and Social Security
  • Medicaid and food stamps
  • Active-duty service personnel and the Veterans Administration

While the president says vital government services would suffer and the economy would weaken, Republicans say agencies have had plenty of warning and that it's past time the government joins American families in making tough budget choices.

While the president rails against the cuts, the idea for this deadline was his. He proposed it during a previous stand-off with Congress two years ago, believing the threat of defense cuts would pressure Republicans into a big deficit-cutting grand bargain.

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