The real problem with the sequester is that it unfairly targets the poor
Skeptics have downplayed the likely impact of "sequestration" – the $85bn cut in federal funding that's slated to begin Friday – noting that it equals just 2.4% of total federal spending this year and that spending will continue to grow despite the cut. But this math obscures the harm that sequestration will do, not just to Americans across the country but also to the economy as a whole.
First, let's examine the 2.4% figure. While accurate, it's meaningless because the cuts aren't occurring across the entire federal budget. Some programs, notably social security, are exempt, and the cuts to Medicare are strictly limited.
Instead, the cuts are concentrated in what's known as "discretionary" programs, because Congress funds them on an annual basis (unlike "entitlement" programs, like social security, which have permanent funding). About half of discretionary spending is for defense; the other half is for a wide range of activities including education, medical and scientific research, law enforcement, environmental protection, international aid programs, and support for low-income individuals and families.
Discretionary spending accounts for about 35% of total spending, but it will bear roughly 80% of the cuts under sequestration.