Everything You Need to Know About the Sequester: The Most Boring Budget Crisis Ever

There is nothing more tedious in the world today than the sequester. The word itself sounds like a prescription sleeping aid. So let's keep this brief.


In the debt ceiling standoff of 2011, President Obama wanted to simply raise the debt limit. House Republicans wanted budget cuts. So they came to an agreement. The debt ceiling would go up and spending would be cut -- in two steps. First, they agreed to cut $900 billion over the next decade. Second, they agreed to agree to $1.5 trillion in additional cuts. Where would these additional cuts come from? A 12-person, bipartisan, bicameral SUPERCOMMITTEE would decide. And if the SUPERCOMMITTEE failed? There was a back-up plan: $1.2 trillion across-the-board, nobody-wants-them cuts that would go into effect this year. That back-up plan was called ... THE SEQUESTER.

In other words, Washington agreed to hold itself hostage. The theory was that the fear of the SEQUESTER would push the SUPERCOMMITTEE to reach a deal. It didn't work out. So here we are. The SEQUESTER is set to kick in on March 1, and the plan that nobody wanted might actually happen. Here are the three things you need to know about it from the Bipartisan Policy Center's comprehensive breakdown.

1. It will cut $85 billion in 2013, with half of that coming out of Defense.
Sequester2013.png
2. It will bring non-defense discretionary spending -- things like infrastructure, schools, and R&D -- in 2014 down to its lowest level since 1970

SequesterDiscretionary.png
3. It will cost us between 700,000 and one million jobs over the next two years.

SequesterJobs.png

In short, it's a bad idea whose time should never come. It will only kneecap the recovery without meaningfully altering the trajectory of our long-term debt. Now, Congress could create a 12-person, bipartisan, bicameral committee to come up with replacement cuts, but that this point, they should probably just cancel, and go on living their lives. Call it a grand bargain.

Presented by

Matthew O'Brien

Matthew O'Brien is a former senior associate editor at The Atlantic.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Business

Just In