The Washington Post

Sequestration — a threat less than a month away

You’ve heard the word “sequester” mentioned by politicians a lot lately. The Washington Post’s Ed O’Keefe explains what the term means in the Pentagon budget fight. (The Washington Post)

Decisions have consequences, and in the current debate over how to avert the “fiscal cliff,” the consequence of failing to reach an agreement is “sequestration.”

The dictionary definition of sequestration is “to isolate or hide away (someone or something).” In Washington parlance, sequestration refers to the dramatic cuts in federal spending that are set to kick in automatically at the beginning of January. These reductions would total $1.2 trillion over the next decade, starting with about $50 billion in Pentagon spending and another $50 billion in non-defense spending.

The spending cuts are the consequence of the bipartisan deal struck last year to raise the nation’s debt ceiling and were meant to goad Washington into action. In passing the Budget Control Act, President Obama and lawmakers established a 12-member “supercommittee” to draft a bipartisan agreement with $1.2 trillion in cuts over the next decade. If the panel failed to draft an agreement, both sides agreed that draconian spending cuts would begin after New Year’s Day.

Both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue agreed to the sequestration plan on the assumption that neither side would want to endure the painful political and economic consequences of slashing federal spending so deeply and indiscriminately. But the talks have failed to reach an agreement — and the Congressional Budget Office is warning that the cuts would help push the nation back into a recession.

Unless Congress acts before Jan. 1, there will be an immediate 9.4 percent across-the-board cut in money for defense programs and an 8.2 percent reduction in money for domestic initiatives, according to a report released in September by the White House.

The Defense Department would need to delay equipment purchases and repairs, trim services for military families and perhaps compromise the readiness of military units preparing to deploy, according to the White House report.

Elsewhere, the cuts could mean fewer FBI agents, federal prosecutors and air traffic controllers, significant cutbacks in federal scientific research, fewer food inspections and a possible limit to services at national parks and historic sites.

But the plan would exempt certain programs and priorities, including food stamps, Medicaid and benefits and salaries for military personnel.

The only way to avoid sequestration is for Congress to pass an alternative spending plan. It has less than a month to do it.

Ed O’Keefe is covering the 2016 presidential campaign, with a focus on Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates. He's covered presidential and congressional politics since 2008. Off the trail, he's covered Capitol Hill, federal agencies and the federal workforce, and spent a brief time covering the war in Iraq.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Show Comments
The Republicans debate Saturday night. The New Hampshire primary is on Feb. 9. Get caught up on the race.
Heading into the next debate...
Donald Trump returns to the Republican presidential debate stage Saturday night. Marco Rubio arrives as a sudden star, but fending off ferocious attacks from his rivals. Still glowing from his Iowa victory, Ted Cruz is trying to consolidate conservative support, while Ben Carson is struggling to avoid being typecast as the dead man walking.
Play Video
New Hampshire polling averages
Donald Trump holds a commanding lead in the next state to vote, but Marco Rubio has recently seen a jump in his support, according to polls.
New Hampshire polling averages
A victory in New Hampshire revitalized Hillary Clinton's demoralized campaign in 2008. But this time, she's trailing Bernie Sanders, from neighboring Vermont. She's planning to head Sunday to Flint, Mich., where a cost-saving decision led to poisonous levels of lead in the water of the poor, heavily black, rust-belt city. 
56% 36%
Upcoming debates
Feb. 6: GOP debate

on ABC News, in Manchester, N.H.

Feb. 11: Democratic debate

on PBS, in Wisconsin

Feb 13: GOP debate

on CBS News, in South Carolina

Campaign 2016
State of the race

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.