It was designed to be the budget cut so painful, so indiscriminate, so downright mindless that even a gridlocked Congress wouldn't allow it to happen.
Now, it looks like it's going to happen.
Aides in both parties have said any deal on the fiscal cliff would be unlikely to address sequestration, an automatic $110 billion reduction in government spending, split evenly between military and domestic programs, that is scheduled to take effect Wednesday.
The problem with sequestration is not so much the size of the cuts but their scope. With the exception of a few programs specifically spared by Congress — including Medicaid, Medicare benefits and food stamps — every government account would be sliced by almost the same amount.
The White House has said that all domestic programs that were not specifically shielded would face an 8.2 percent cut next year. Military programs would be cut by 9.4 percent.
Air traffic controllers, courthouse security guards, cancer researchers — all would face the same crunch.
Federal workers are still expected to report to their jobs on Wednesday as normal. But agencies would quickly institute hiring freezes, restrict travel and reduce technology spending. And, without congressional action to reverse the cut, widespread furloughs would be possible as agencies grapple with squeezing the amount they have to spend through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.