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Sequester: How the US got its crippling budget cuts

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

The sequester -- that devilish package of reckless and arbitrary budget cuts to US government spending that was not designed to actually go into effect -- is finally upon us.

Friday was the deadline to reach a deal that averts the reductions, but no such bargain has been crafted. The White House blames Republicans, Republicans blame President Barack Obama and the American people point the finger at all of Washington.

Here is how Congress and the White House got to this point:

-- Back in mid-2011, lawmakers and the White House feuded over raising the debt ceiling and how to slash the bloated US deficit. Republicans advocated deep reductions in spending, while Democrats insisted on raising taxes.

-- A grand bargain between Obama and Republican House Speaker John Boehner collapsed, and Congress missed its August 2011 debt ceiling deadline. The fractious debate cost the United States its "AAA" credit rating from Standard & Poor's.

-- Unable to agree on how to trim the fat from the budget, lawmakers approved an unsavory mechanism that would trim muscle and bone as well. The draconian plan: $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts to military and domestic programs over a decade beginning January 1, 2013 if no alternative was crafted.

-- A 12-member congressional "supercommittee" was tasked to adopt a plan to replace the indiscriminate cuts, dubbed sequestration. But amid the partisanship, the plan went down in flames.

-- Fast-forward to 2012, when Congress refused to touch the sensitive sequester issue in the midst of a presidential election campaign.

-- Weeks after Obama's re-election, with the deadline looming, the two sides began serious negotiations to avoid an amalgam of financial crises known as the fiscal cliff, which included expiring tax breaks and the sequester.

-- In a dramatic New Year's eve deal, Republicans acquiesced to Obama's demand to raise taxes on the rich.

-- But Congress punted on the budget cuts, postponing the deadline until March 1, figuring that would buy enough time to craft an alternative to the $85 billion in cuts set to slam the US economy.

-- Neither camp backed down. Democrats stuck to their demand for new revenues by closing tax loopholes, claiming they had strong backing from the American public.

-- Boehner insisted taxes were off the table. Other Republicans mocked the "apocalyptic predictions" by Democrats, saying the potential impact of the sequester was not as severe as claimed.

-- Obama met with congressional leaders Friday, but no breakthrough emerged. Afterward, Obama said the "dumb" and "inexcusable" cuts would go ahead, but called on both sides to compromise in the coming weeks to replace the sequester.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130301/sequester-how-the-us-got-its-crippling-budget-cuts