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Sequester 101: What happens if cuts kick in March 1 and four other questions

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2. What is the sequester set to actually do?

The sequester would spread out about $109 billion in cuts per year, every year, for 10 years.

As lawmakers already paid for $24 billion this year, the overall level for 2013 now stands at $85 billion. But there’s another twist: The $85 billion is really more like only $44 billion in actual cuts over the next six months of the fiscal year – because some of the cuts would apply to spending obligations that stretch out over multiple years.

A standard year of sequestration, with $109 billion in cuts, would see about half that total, some $55 billion, come from the Pentagon. This is the side of the equation meant to bring Republicans to the negotiating table.

The Democratic priorities under fire are $43 billion in cuts to all other aspects of government – from education to social services to NASA and the National Institutes of Health.

The final bit ($11 billion) is made up of something that’s annoying to both parties: a 2 percent reduction in payments to Medicare providers.

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