Notwithstanding the dire warnings from everybody in Washington who said they didn’t want it to happen, but who let it happen anyway, the automatic budget cuts of the sequestration went into effect over the weekend. No big deal? Sure doesn’t seem like it, does it, at least not yet; but Slate has a good FAQs on this for those who want to keep an eye out for the signs of the apocalypse:
Can you start with the basics, like what the heck is the “sequester” and where did it come from?
In short, a sequester is a formal term for mandatory cuts to the federal budget. This particular sequester was originally created back in 2011 when lawmakers struck an eleventh-hour debt-ceiling compromise. In theory, the mere possibility of those cuts was supposed to ensure that Congress’s so-called supercommittee would have no other choice but to strike a deal to trim the federal budget by $1.5 trillion over the next decade. Notice we said in theory. In reality, the panel failed to live up to its super name, and so began the slow march toward today.
…a trillion dollars? That sounds like a lot.
It is, but it doesn’t happen all at once. The cuts are actually spread out over the next decade. This year’s sequester includes: $42.7 billion in defense cuts (or about an 8 percent reduction); $28.7 billion in domestic discretionary cuts (5 percent); $9.9 billion in Medicare cuts (2 percent); and about $4 billion in other mandatory cuts.
The cuts were created in 2011, they went into effect Friday, and the nation will begin to feel the impact in the days that follow. Exactly how soon, we don’t know. But we’ll feel them a little more in the coming weeks, and even more the following month. And even more the month after that. And so on, all the way to either 2021 or whenever Washington decides to replace it with something else.
The White House believes that the impact of the cuts over the next several weeks will bring Republicans back to the bargaining table on taxes. The GOP, meanwhile, says that’s not going to happen.
Man, this stuff manages to be both excruciatingly boring and kind of terrifying all at once.
True story. It also may become a little more of both in the coming weeks.
Wait, come again?
The next fight—there’s always a next fight in Washington—will occur over how to keep the federal government running for another year. The current stopgap bill that does that runs through March 27. If and when that expires, we’re looking at one-day-a-week furloughs multiplied by five, for pretty much the entire government. In other words: government shutdown.
Yes indeed: the same people, who more than a year and a half ago planted a booby trap to force themselves to do the right thing but still couldn’t get out of its way, are now less than four weeks away from another self-imposed drop dead date. If they miss this deadline, the government’s spending authority runs out and the lights go out on almost everything.
What could possibly go wrong?