Air traffic controllers, courthouse security guards, National Institutes of Health cancer researchers — all would face the same crunch.
"You do need cuts. But sequestration is not the way to go," said Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va. "It's literally a meat ax without any thought behind it."
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.
On Friday, the administration formally outlined for employees the nuts and bolts of how the temporary layoffs would work.
Particularly problematic, economically and politically, are scheduled cuts at the Pentagon, which Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said could have a devastating impact on the military.
Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, on Saturday blasted the notion of reaching a deal that would not cancel the pending military cuts.
Sequestration was always intended to be an incentive to force Congress and the White House to find a better alternative.
It was enacted in the summer of 2011 during the debt-ceiling fight, when lawmakers agreed to increase the nation's legal borrowing limit but also to cut spending by $1 trillion and to create a 12-member bipartisan "super committee" to craft a plan to reduce the debt by $1.2 trillion more.
To provide incentive for the panel, Congress hung the sword of sequestration over its head: If it did not come up with a plan by the end of 2011, government budgets would simply be reduced automatically by $1.2 trillion over 10 years.
Half the cuts would come from the military, intended to spur Republicans to act; the deep domestic cut was supposed to do the same for Democrats.