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Sequestration: History, Impact, and a Call to Action

People Over Profit 2011 protest signIn August 2011, NCIL members advocated with great success in the effort to stop Medicaid cuts in the Budget preparations. The time has come to reach out to your members of Congress again and ask them to stop Sequestration during the lame duck session, November 13 – December 14, 2012.

It is imperative to the lives of millions that Sequestration does not go into effect.

History – Budget information:

Last year, Congress passed the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA) and on August 2, 2011 President Obama signed it into law. As part of BCA (or “the Debt Ceiling Bill” as it is commonly known), Congress created the “Super Committee of 12” and asked them to reduce the deficit by at least $1.5 trillion through 2021. This bipartisan committee was charged with creating an agreement by November 21, 2011.

Summary of the Bill:

The bill would permit the government to borrow until 2013 and allow the debt limit to be increased by up to $2.4 trillion, set spending caps through 2021, and create the House-Senate budget recommendation committee – (Super Committee of 12). 

The spending caps are imposed through 2021, for fiscal year 2012 –2013 there would be two caps:

  1. Defense Discretionary (DD) Funding: spending by the Pentagon, Homeland Security, Department of Veterans Affairs, the National Nuclear Security Administration, international affairs and intelligence functions.
  2. Non-Defense Discretionary (NDD) Funding: a single cap to be applied to all other discretionary spending.

The Super Committee of 12 failed to reach an agreement by the deadline. The BCA included a Sequestration provision that was “triggered” when the committee failed.

What is Sequestration?

Sequestration is a fiscal policy procedure adopted by Congress to deal with the federal budget deficit. It first appeared in the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Deficit Reduction Act of 1985. Under Sequestration, an amount of money equal to the difference between the cap set in the Budget Resolution and the amount actually appropriated is “sequestered” by the Treasury and not handed over to the agencies to which it was originally appropriated by Congress.

Simply put, Sequestration is the cancellation of budgetary resources – an “automatic” form of spending cutback. Learn more at IDEAMoneyWatch and A Glossary of Political Economy Terms.

The only way to avoid Sequestration is if Congress passes legislation that undoes the Sequestration provision in the BCA. They have until January 2, 2013 to pass such legislation and get it signed by President Obama. These cuts are automatic and across the board. The Executive Branch cannot reconfigure the cuts. The defense deductions equal $500 billion and non-defense deductions equal $700 billion. The incredible reality of such reductions has been termed the “fiscal cliff” and if implemented, we will fall off.

What could happen if Sequestration takes effect

The Sequestration Transparency Act of 2012 (STA) was introduced by Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) and a member of the “Super Committee of 12”, on May 3, 2012 and signed by President Obama on August 27, 2012.

The STA directed OMB to report on how the Administration interprets the law related to implementing Sequestration. On September 14, 2012 OMB submitted its report estimating percentage cuts for defense and non-defense appropriations based on assumptions set in the STA:

  • A reduction of 9.4 % in 2013 for discretionary defense (function 050) appropriations for each non-exempt item
  • A reduction of 8.2% in 2013 on discretionary non-defense appropriations

According to the House Appropriations Website: If a balanced solution isn’t reached to address the “fiscal cliff”, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) will overturn their forecast of steady growth for 2013, predicting another recession with a 9.1% unemployment rate and the Congressional Research Service (CRS) estimates that the effect of sequestration alone would result in 1.4 million jobs lost in the same year.

The data has proven in the past that these forecast numbers are usually double for people with disabilities.

Resources to learn more about the predictions, forecasts and dollar amounts around Sequestration:

In July, Senator Tom Harkin, Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies published the first comprehensive report on Sequestration and the impact should it be implemented. The report is called “Under Threat: Sequestration’s Impact on Nondefense Jobs and Services” (PDF). In the report, Senator Harkin provides national and state-by-state estimates of the number of jobs that could be lost and the number of individuals who could be affected by cuts in services if Sequestration went into effect on January 2, 2013.

In the forward to the report, Senator Harkin states:

This report explains why my Democratic colleagues and I adamantly oppose any unbalanced approach that protects the Pentagon and the wealthiest 2 percent in our society while ignoring cuts to nondefense services, including education, that are so critical to the middle class.

A better, fairer solution is needed. It’s the same way we solved our previous budget crises in 1982, 1984, 1990, 1993 – with a balanced approach that includes both spending reductions and new revenue. In the five years following the 1993 deficit-reduction law, the U.S. economy created over 15 million new jobs; not only did we balance the budget, we were on course to completely eliminate the national debt within a decade. We can repeat this success. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

A Report from the House Appropriations Committee Democrats was released on October 7, 2012. Ranking Member Representative Norm Dicks of Washington State sent out a Dear Colleague letter in which he stated, “…the purpose here is to illustrate the consequences of an automatic, across-the-board, uniform percentage reduction prescribed by the Budget Control Act (BCA). This letter will examine the impact of sequestration on the whole range of Federal responsibilities and, I hope, help make the case for Congress to act responsibly by agreeing to a more sensible approach to deficit reduction.

To be clear: If sequestration takes effect, it is only because it failed to motivate Congressional action as intended. The across-the-board cuts take effect only because the Joint Select Committee failed, and only if, in the ensuing year, Congress and the President fail to reach agreement on a more sensible deficit reduction plan.

NCIL Takes Action

NCIL has joined national coalitions in DC working on the Non-Defense Discretionary (NDD) programs, including NDD United, created by the Coalition for Health Funding (CHF). On July 12, 2012 NCIL became one of 3,000 national, state and local organizations signatories to a coalition letter tiled “Urging A Balanced Approach to Deficit Reduction” (PDF). For more information and advocacy tools, visit the NDD United coalition’s website.

The Coalition on Human Needs (CHN) created the SAVE-for-All Campaign. NCIL joined 1,900 organizations as a signatory to the Campaign’s October 17, 2012 letter to every Senator and Representative (PDF). For more information and advocacy tools, visit the SAVE-for-All Campaign website.

NCIL has also joined the “Uber” Coalition, started by The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, where we work with over 500 organizations in an advocacy effort to stop implementation of Sequestration.

You Can Make a Difference

Tell your senators and representatives: I am a person with a disability or advocate and I do not want to see Sequestration go into effect.

  1. I believe in a balanced approach to the budget, but not job cuts.
  2. Do not make any cuts to Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid.
  3. End the Bush tax credit for the 2% wealthiest of this country.
  4. Do not allow Sequestration to become law in 2013.

Then get your family, friends, co-workers, and other community members to call in as well!

Contacting Your Legislators

  • Online: find a senator or representative in your state and click on their contact form to submit your comment. In your comment, identify yourself as a constituent and urge your senator or representative, “Please do not allow Sequestration!”
  • Phone: call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask for your senators’ and / or representative’s office, or contact your representative’s office directly. Once connected, ask to speak with an office aide who handles budget and finance issues. Identify yourself and tell the aide to “Please tell Senator / Representative [NAME] that I do not want [him or her] to allow Sequestration.”
  • Social Media: Tweet and Facebook both of your Senators and all of your Representatives and tell them not to allow Sequestration. On Titter, follow @healthfunding and @TheBudgetGuy and use Hashtags: #NDDUnited, #sequestration and #fiscalcliff.

For more information or questions on this work, please contact Dara Baldwin, Policy Analyst at and follow on Twitter @DaraBaldwin1.

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