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What Is The Sequester?

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The sequester is what everyone, at least in Washington, seems to be talking about. But what is sequestration exactly?

Set to begin March 1 at 11:59 p.m., the sequester is a set of automatic spending cuts put into law by the Budget Control Act. Signed by President Barack Obama in August 2011, that legislation raised the debt ceiling and sought to apply pressure on Congress to come up with a longer term plan for deficit reduction.

The $1.2 trillion in budget cuts would be spread over nine years and are equally divided between domestic and defense-related spending. During the remainder of the 2013 fiscal year, $85 billion worth of cuts are set to go into effect. The budget cuts would end in 2021.

Why is the sequester happening?
When the debt limit was raised in 2011, Republicans demanded that budget cuts be included in the legislation. The Congress Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction -- or the "super committee" put in charge of figuring out how to implement the cuts called for in the Budget Control Act -- ultimately proved unable to reach a bipartisan agreement on cutting $1.2 trillion from the deficit. With the threat of automatic sequestration still looming, Congress was tasked with finding those cuts. No luck so far. So, while sequestration was never intended to actually go into effect, it now most likely will.

What funding will the sequester affect?
The sequester will affect government spending across the board. The military will see $550 billion in cuts, drawing funds away from national security and military operations. On the domestic side, cuts will affect health care, education, law enforcement, disaster relief, unemployment benefits, non-profit organization funds, scientific research and more.

Will any funding not be affected?
The sequester stipulates certain areas of government spending that will see no cuts. No money will be drawn from spending on wars and military personnel. Funding allocated for Medicaid, Social Security, Pell grants, veterans' benefits and some low-income programs will not be affected, either.

Have lawmakers tried to stop the sequester?
Both Democrats and Republicans are trying to figure out how to stop the sequester from going into effect, but the two parties can't agree on a plan. Senate Democrats introduced a plan titled the American Family Economic Protection Act, which identified $120 billion in savings that would replace sequester cuts until the end of December 2013. Republicans weren't in agreement on their own solution, but eventually came forward with a counterproposal that would have kept the sequester in place, but given Obama control in implementing the cuts. Both plans were ultimately voted down.

This post has been updated.

For more information on specific sequester cuts, see the slideshow below:

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What Sequestration Would Cut
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