February 20th, 2013
06:00 AM ET

Blind budget cuts, explained with a tomato

By Lisa Desjardins, CNN

Follow on Twitter: @LisaDCNN

Editor's Note: Listen to the full story in our player above, and join the conversation in our comments section below.

Capitol Hill (CNN) – So, what the heck is this razor hanging over the federal government? The forced budget cuts, or sequester, are more than your regular breed of spending knife.

This is more of a chainsaw. Agencies have little flexibility in how the cuts hit, and now, if they go into effect, have only six months to come up with tens of billions in savings.

A few examples of what this will mean?

[1:49] Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told members of Congress last week, “At the major international airports, average wait times to clear customs will increase by 50%.”

Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter said furloughs will hit 80,000 civilians who work for the Pentagon.

[2:56] “Many of them will be furloughed for as many as 22 days…before the end of the year. In other words, a fifth of their paycheck, gone.”

For more on why agencies are limited in how they make these cuts, as well as how the food supply could be affected, listen to our story above.

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soundoff (23 Responses)
  1. chuck

    Let the axe fall and make the cuts. Its will not be the disaster as politicians say. Depts will be forced to reorganize, to eliminate waste, to use technology more efficently, to not purchase excess, to reevalute.....basically to do as civilian business do. There is way too much waste and abuse in government. Make them work more efficently. Initiate the cuts now. It will mkae the departments more efficent.

    February 20, 2013 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • lerianis

      Chuck, yes, it will be a disaster. It will shut down numerous programs that people rely on to keep from starving/freezing/etc. to death.

      They would do better to focus SOLELY on cutting the military, which in my opinion the only thing that we need to protect us is our nuclear weapons. Terrorists? Not a huge worry and impossible to get rid of, let alone stop in most cases.

      February 22, 2013 at 8:43 am | Report abuse |
    • christy

      Gees, Chuck, I really don't mean to be sarcastic but you sure are gullible. Are you anywhere near Washington? If so, stop by the Capitol building and see who is there. Nobody. Congress is all at home with their families doing what they do best. Nothing. They are playing politics at the expense of the people who pay their considerable salaries. In my opinion they and their "let 'em eat cake" attitude should be sent home permanently.

      March 1, 2013 at 11:01 am | Report abuse |
  2. mag

    There is plenty of waste but these furloughs aren't touching it. This is political grandstanding.The military industrial complex is huge with weapons systems, contractors, utility bills, active duty pay, civilian pay. These furloughs for only a 20% reduction in civilian pay for a few months will make almost no effect on balancing anything or reducing the deficit. These people are working and contributing to society...providing a service...producing a product...whatever. If you want to save money then reduce the entitlement programs....those sacred cows aren't being touched. If we both cut spending across the board and raise taxes in incremental chunks over 10 years then we get healthy again without put us back into a recession....which is what is going to happen if you let this sequester go on for very long.

    February 20, 2013 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
  3. John Deatherage

    5 percent cuts for domestic spending & 8 percent defense cuts.... Hardly draconian.

    February 20, 2013 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • lerianis

      You have to look at where they are coming from, John. When you get down to THAT, yes, they are draconian because numerous federal programs have no 'wiggle room' in where they send their dollars by rote law.

      February 22, 2013 at 8:48 am | Report abuse |
  4. John Deatherage

    What programs have too much money?

    February 20, 2013 at 2:00 pm | Report abuse |
  5. sumday

    umm how was this explained with a tomato? there wasn't even an analogy given.

    February 20, 2013 at 12:40 pm | Report abuse |
  6. ag

    This is exactly the WRONG way to cut government spending. The salaries of government employees – who are mostly middle-class folks – are not the problem. The problem is the stupid, wasteful projects that they're required to work on.

    Furlough government employees, and they'll lose a significant portion of their paychecks. They'll stop spending, hurting the economy. Then, they'll go back to work, and continue wasting taxpayer dollars on planes the military doesn't want, programs that don't work, etc.

    We'll be back just where we started, only we'll have hurt thousands of middle-class families in the process.

    February 20, 2013 at 12:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • lerianis

      ag, one person's "stupid, wasteful project" is not another person's and most of those government workers are being paid LESS than they would be in the private arena. You are getting quite a lot of 'bang for your buck' there.

      February 22, 2013 at 8:44 am | Report abuse |
      • John

        lerianis are you serious stating that with government programs we are getting a good "bang for our buck" ... ? Here is a quote from an article from a site liberals love to quote, MotherJones – "Nonetheless, when you look at the overall number, they figure that the federal government's payroll is 16 percent higher than it would be if it paid its workers private sector scales." http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2012/01/chart-day-federal-government-pay-vs-private-sector-pay

        February 22, 2013 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • xeryus

      ag, you are the first person that I have seen or read that has finally stated that about the federal employees!!! Thank you!! All I keep hearing is all negative things about us and we are the root of the debt, etc... because we are all "overpaid"! which is B.S. Washington has talked talked talked about how they dont want to affect the middle-class family, but then they turn around and put federal employees at the top of their list to go after. We have had our paychecks affected by all this for the last 4yrs and it will affect our paycheck for the rest of our careers due to compound interest. Now they want our retirements!! WTH!! Meanwhile, Congress is getting their full checks and getting all their full benefits and retirement for NOT doing their job at all!!!

      February 26, 2013 at 12:46 am | Report abuse |
    • Me

      Ag: Thank you for stating what most do not realize – this is affecting normal everday hard working people! 20% is a lot of money to not have coming in. I live in San Diego where gas is $4.25 per gallon and the cost of food is skyrocketing also (even though the Government doesn't think so). I will be making $600 per week if furloughed. I pay for the healthcare for me and my kids. I pay for daycare for my kids. No, I do not live beyond my means – I bought a mobile home for my kids and I to live in. I receive no "handouts" from the Government but, they sure do take a lot from me. They have already "borrowed" our retirement funds and our TSP (401K) just like they have already done with Social Security. A Government employee is stereotyped as a fat cow cash hog or whatever. We are not. Our pay has been frozen for the last few years while Congress has given themselves a pay raise (4% this year alone I think). Oh, and here is a real kicker: regular civilian counterparts that have we have the same job as make 20-40% MORE than us.

      February 26, 2013 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Scoot Caseau

    You have to but wonder when the article says that some 80,000 civilians who work for the Pentagon will lose a fifth of their paycheck and that's only 22 days? How would the rest of the working class like to only have to work 110 days a year? Just once I would like to see a cut in the senate, house, congress etc... paychecks; and see how fast they fix that!

    February 20, 2013 at 12:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cindy

      By working 4 days a week instead of 5, the employee will lose 1/5 of paycheck. This is true at factories, restaurants, wall street, retail stores, most places that pay an hourly wage. Losing one day a week of work is losing 1/5 of one's pay. This loss of a fifth of the weekly pay will continue and might cost them 22 days of unpaid work by October 1, 2013.

      Nice that private industry continues to work 40 hours a week.

      February 20, 2013 at 1:37 pm | Report abuse |