Under the law, retirees are shielded and so their Social Security checks will arrive on schedule at the beginning of March and every month thereafter. Similarly, the elderly and the disabled will not see their federally backed Medicare healthcare curtailed at all over the seven months.
Every U.S. soldier will get paid and the Defense Department will be allowed to shift funds to ensure that combat operations and "critical military readiness capabilities" are not degraded, according to the Obama administration.
Unofficially, many members of Congress are betting that a few weeks into the automatic spending cuts, Democratic and Republican leaders will get serious about negotiating a replacement to the sequestration and the $85 billion in spending cuts will not have had time to really bite.
And so on March 1 and in the days immediately after, while no dramatic shakeup is anticipated, there will be some early tremors.
* Government agencies are likely to issue 30-day warnings of impending furloughs of government workers. They could be told that starting on April 1 they will have to stay home for a maximum of 22 days between March 1 and September 30.
* New government contracts could slow in anticipation of no deal being reached to replace the sequestration. This would hit defense contractors and road and bridge builders alike.
* Members of Congress, who are not exempt from the spending cuts, will be advised to begin preparing their staffs for either salary cuts or layoffs if they have to shave funds from their approximately $4 billion in annual appropriations.
* Medical research labs at universities that rely heavily on federal funds will begin deciding which projects to abandon or curtail, if they haven't already.
* Every federal agency will have to finalize their plans on how to execute the across-the-board spending cuts.
At this stage, most planned furloughs are being held to 22 days per federal employee. Anything longer is considered a formal layoff and requires more complex legal hurdles, some involving seniority, to be met.
In some cases, furlough notices won't go out until terms are negotiated with employee unions after March 1. Not all union-government contracts cover such actions, said Carl Goldman, executive director of AFSCME Council 26, which represents 8,500 federal workers from building engineers to librarians.
"The biggest thing we can do is to negotiate over the scheduling of furloughs, how much choice employees will have in selecting days furloughed," Goldman said.