A lot has been said about the tax rates side of the fiscal cliff, but the sequestration spending cuts are largely ignored in the rhetoric and spin from both sides of the negotiation table.
But less than 24 hours from now, those cuts will be reality.
Mandatory federal spending cuts designed to be prohibitively drastic will become a reality on Wednesday if negotiators remain unable to reach an agreement to avert the reductions.
What gets cut?
The cuts would hit a broad array of departments and programs, from the military's purchase of mine-resistant vehicles to government food inspections. They would slash funding for Secret Service details and cut rental housing subsidies in rural areas.
Illustrating the gravity of the cuts, the Pentagon plans to notify 800,000 civilian employees that they could be forced to take several weeks of unpaid leave in 2013 if a deal isn't struck, and other agencies are likely to follow suit.
The cuts, which members of both parties have referred to as a "meat ax," are the product of a hastily designed 2011 law that required $110 billion in annual spending reductions over nine years to reduce the deficit. Their severity, representing close to 10% of annually appropriated spending, was intended to force Democrats and Republicans to come together on a broader package of deficit-reduction measures, which would replace the cuts. That effort failed, raising the prospect of the cuts' taking place.
Complicating matters, the White House hasn't informed federal agencies or contractors of precisely how the cuts might be administered, leading to confusion about the potential impact.
Several federal agencies referred questions about the cuts to the White House's Office of Management and Budget. OMB didn't respond to questions.
While Congress could reverse the sequester if it is triggered, federal agencies must plan as if they are going to happen, said Alan Chvotkin, executive vice president at the Professional Services Council, a trade group that represents government contractors.
"Every week you wait, the deeper the cuts you will have to eventually make," he said