The Day That Was Never Supposed to Happen: Sequestration and What You Need To Know

March 1, 2013 – At midnight tonight, automatic across-the-board spending cuts will go into effect.  Originally designed to encourage lawmakers in Washington to come up with targeted spending cuts, “sequestration” will impact every federally operated department, agency, and program.[1]  Beginning tonight, 7.3% of the FY2013 defense budget and 5.3% of all other FY2013 budgets will be cut.  The cuts will not be returned in one lump sum, but rather spread out over six months.

Yesterday, the Senate voted on two proposals, both of which failed: a Republican proposal would have given the President the authority to determine where to make spending cuts, while the Democratic bill contained a combination of targeted spending cuts and increased revenue to offset the spending cuts.

Now, attention will turn to the next deadline on the calendar: March 27. In less than a month, funding for the government will run out unless Congress can enact funding for the rest of FY2013.  The Congress may decide to prioritze the cuts at some point in the future as a part of any appropriations package, however, no plan has emerged to date.

Additional Resources

Bloomberg Government has prepared a set of  “Myths vs. Facts”

Myth #1: On March 1, about $85 billion will be cut immediately from government spending.

Fact: The president is required to issue an order on March 1 that reduces budgetary authority by $85.3 billion in defense and nondefense funds by Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year. Only half the funds will be cut immediately, because the government is operating with half a year’s funding under a stopgap spending bill known as a continuing resolution. The other half of the cuts will be taken when funding is made available for the second half of the year.


Myth #2: Sequestration occurs every year through fiscal 2021, and it cuts the same amount each year for a total of $1.2 trillion.

Fact: There are different types of sequestration under the Budget Control Act. The one that’s getting the most attention -- and that will begin March 1 -- is a one-time event for fiscal 2013. In succeeding years, the balance of the $1.2 trillion savings goal mandated by Budget Control Act is achieved primarily through caps on discretionary funding. Sequestration is triggered only if discretionary budgets exceed the caps. Mandatory spending, including Medicare, will also be subject to sequestration every year under the Budget Control Act.


Myth #3: Sequestration will cost thousands of government workers their jobs.

Fact: The government probably will furlough civilian employees, which amounts to unpaid days off. Federal agencies probably will avoid furloughs longer than 22 days because they fall under more burdensome “reductions in force” rules. Without extended furloughs or layoffs, much of the sequestration cuts will come from reductions in federal contract and grant spending.


Myth #4: Military personnel will be unaffected by sequestration.

Fact: The president has the authority to exempt military pay from sequestration, and he says he will exercise that authority. Still, many services for troops such as health care are paid from accounts that aren’t exempt. Some slowdown or reduction in certain services, as well as training, for troops is probable.


Myth #5: The cuts will be spread evenly across the government.

Fact: Defense spending will be cut by 7.3 percent and nondefense spending will be cut by 5.3 percent, according to Bloomberg Government estimates. Medicare cuts are limited to 2 percent. The Department of Veterans Affairs is exempt from cuts. The law requires that each program, project or activity in every agency be cut an equal percentage, but the definitions of these terms may vary across agencies. Agency leadership may have some discretion in applying the cuts.


Myth #6: After Friday’s sequestration, federal agencies, employees and contractors will finally have certainty about government funding.

Fact: Several major spending issues still must be dealt with in the near future:

  • The president’s fiscal 2014 budget request, due Feb. 4, won’t be ready until mid-March.
  • A government shutdown will occur after March 27, when the continuing resolution expires, unless a budget agreement is reached for the rest of the fiscal year.
  • The debt ceiling, which was suspended by a Feb. 4 law, will be back in force in May, potentially triggering another showdown between congressional Republicans and the president.


The White House has prepared state-by-state fact sheets on the effects of sequestration to each state. Click on your state below.


Pay for military personnel, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security payments are exempt.