The Senate did pass the farm bill yesterday, but included in the package was an amendment from Patty Murray that will force the executive branch to give more information on how they plan to handle the automatic cuts scheduled for the end of the year. And importantly, that directive does not just go to the Pentagon, but to the whole of government.

The Senate has agreed to require the Office of Management and Budget and the Pentagon to detail how federal agencies will implement a deep automatic budget cut set to slice domestic and defense programs in January, as Congress begins to brace for the dramatic reductions known as the “sequester.”

The chamber agreed to request the reports in an amendment to the nearly $1 trillion farm bill and the voice vote came after a compromise between Republicans — who had wanted to hear more about defense cuts — and Democrats, who asked for details about domestic reductions as well [...]

The goal is to require federal agencies to detail how damaging the automatic cut will be to the military and key domestic programs — a report that might spur Congressional action on a deal to avert the across-the-board budget whack.

For a while there, I wasn’t sure if anyone was paying any attention to the trigger cuts on the discretionary side of the ledger. As Scott Lilly reported, the trigger cuts on the discretionary side would have wide-ranging economic effects, dragging down growth in significant ways. Where defense cuts are generally localized to that industry and the people in it, cuts to the discretionary budget hit everything else the government does, which interacts with aviation, transportation, the agriculture industry, health care, education, and practically every other sector. The New York Times finally picked up on this today:

From cancer research to farm inspectors to grants to cities and states and law enforcement agencies, nearly every sector of government would be affected by the planned $1.2 trillion in cuts, especially in the first year of the nine-year reductions.

While many mandatory programs, like Medicare, Social Security and others, are exempt or virtually untouched under the scheduled cuts, known as sequestration, roughly $321 billion would be cut from the “nondefense discretionary” category, which represents scores of government spending areas outside of the military [...]

“There is political pain and substantive pain” in the cuts to nonmilitary spending, said Richard Kogan, a senior fellow at Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a left-leaning research group, who noted that roughly a quarter of those cuts would affect Americans at or below the poverty line.

“When people start saying, ‘This means you’re going to cut the National Cancer Institute or air traffic control or the F.B.I. or Border Patrol by 8.4 percent, those little phrases can ring bells with the American public.”

The trigger cuts, in the telling of those who voted for the deal, were never supposed to happen. They were supposed to provide an impetus for a so-called “grand bargain” on spending and taxes. But $1.2 trillion in cuts is $1.2 trillion in cuts, at some level. To suggest that there’s some combination of less harmful $1.2 trillion in cuts is only true up to a point. At a macro level, government would still contribute much less to demand, and that cannot help but impact overall GDP. Maybe this is the one and only chance to reduce our defense budget and you want to do that. Maybe the discretionary cuts, which are supposed to not touch anti-poverty programs, seem more acceptable than the alternative. But if the farm bill passes with the Murray-requested report intact, I think you’ll see just how devastating they can be.