Romney calls for an immediate 5 percent cut in discretionary nondefense spending – a budget move that could be called sequester lite. And within four years, he wants to bring federal spending down to 20 percent of the nation's gross domestic product – and then to keep it capped at that level.
Obama, by contrast, would leave federal spending above 22 percent of GDP, and doesn't call for any cap.
With the Senate likely to remain a battleground that is firmly in the control of neither party, the presidential election appears unlikely to give either party a firm mandate on fiscal policy. But the election could serve as a referendum about which candidate's vision voters prefer to give greater influence to, when the bargaining gets going in earnest.
Back to the cuts: The 2011 law calls for cuts equaling about $100 billion a year, centered mostly in the discretionary portion of the federal budget. This means that some of the programs most important to Americans from day to day – Social Security, Medicaid, food stamps, and more – would not be affected. Medicare, another broad-reaching program, could see spending cuts of 2 percent under the law.
Beyond that, the cuts would essentially be "across the board," which would translate into a roughly 8 percent cut in each nondefense discretionary program next year, including air-traffic control and food-safety inspections. Military programs would face 9 percent cuts.