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Understanding the sequester — in 4 great infographics

Still don't know quite what the sequester is? Join the club.

Lucky for you, The Fix has scoured the interwebs seeking the best infographics to explain just exactly what this strange witch's brew of spending cuts contains.

Below are four of our favorites:

1. First up is Pew's illustration of the year-by-year spending cuts that are included in the sequester. As you can see, the cuts start out relatively small — less than $75 billion in 2013 — but they grow to more than twice that size by 2021, for a total of more than $1 trillion.

The biggest growth in cuts over that time occurs in the interest payments, but everything except for mandatory spending cuts grow steadily over time.

2. As the chart below from the conservative Heritage Foundation shows, defense spending takes the hardest hit in the sequester — relative to its current share of the total budget.

In other words, even though defense is 17 percent of the budget, it is nearly half of the cuts contained in the sequester. (Worth nothing, though, is that non-defense discretionary spending takes a similarly disproportionate hit; it's just a smaller portion of the budget than is defense.)

3. Because of the sequester's big impact on the defense budget, certain states will feel the cuts much more than others — particularly Virginia.

The below chart from Stateline shows the five states that would experience the biggest defense cuts, along with which states and what programs would be most affected by the non-defense cuts (click the image for the latter half of the chart).

Click the image above for the whole infographic.

4. And here's the really depressing part: Even with the supposedly draconian cuts, the actual effect on the country's long-term fiscal picture is slight.

According to the Bipartisan Policy Center's projections, if the sequester goes into effect, the United States debt would reach 100 percent of its Gross Domestic Product just two years later than it is currently scheduled to hit that percentage.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.



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Chris Cillizza · February 19, 2013

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