With a signature, Obama triggers sequester's cuts

President Obama late Friday officially triggered $85 billion in sequestration cuts to the federal government’s discretionary budget for this year.

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His signature makes official a failure by the administration and Congress to come to a deal on cuts that both sides, to one degree or another, believe are foolish.

“It's just dumb. And it's going to hurt. It's going to hurt individual people and it's going to hurt the economy over all,” Obama told reporters earlier in the day, after a last-ditch, half-hearted attempt by the president and congressional leaders to avert the cuts.

The sequestration order implements 9 percent cuts to non-exempt domestic accounts and a 13 percent cut to defense accounts for the period of March 1 to Oct. 1 this year.

It will be up to agencies to administer the cuts to the programs, projects and activities covered by the appropriations accounts.

Some agencies, like the Department of Justice and National Labor Relations Board, have already informed employees that they could be forced to take unpaid leave. The first immediate effects will likely be reduced unemployment benefit checks this month.

Obama was forced to sign the order under the August, 2011, Budget Control Act. The act set up a deficit supercommittee to find a $1.2 trillion deficit-reduction package.

When the supercommittee failed, the sequester was triggered. In January, Congress delayed the sequester by two months to give time for a deal.

The White House demanded a “balanced” package that included tax increases, but Republicans only want to use targeted cuts to replace the sequester, which falls disproportionately on defense.

“The discussion about revenue in my view is over. It's about taking on the spending problem in Washington," Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in brief remarks at the White House on Friday.

As required by law, the Office of Management and Budget also sent a detailed report to Congress outlining the actual cuts on Friday.

In the report, OMB’s deputy director for management, Jeffrey Zients, wrote that the cuts would be “deeply destructive to national security, domestic investments, and core Government functions.”

“The Administration continues to stand ready to work with the Congress to enact balanced deficit reduction legislation that replaces sequestration and puts the Nation on a sound long-term fiscal path,” Zients wrote.

OMB has calculated that to achieve the required budget savings on a full-year basis, domestic agencies must get a 5 percent cut and defense must be cut 7.8 percent. Because only seven months remain in the fiscal year, these percentages become 9 percent and 13 percent respectively.

The 83-page OMB report goes account by account through the vast federal government, applying the percentages and revealing the new dollar amounts available for use.

A senior administration official said Obama will continue to talk about the sequester in events at the White House and on the road, with the hopes that Republicans will be forced to come to the table.

But the official said Obama will also hold events on comprehensive immigration reform, gun control and raising the minimum wage.

--This report was updated at 9:32 p.m.