The sequestration law, passed in 2011 after that debt-limit fight, was to take effect Jan. 2. It was delayed two months after lawmakers and the White House agreed to raise taxes. The law calls for budget cuts of 8 percent to 10 percent, divided equally between military and domestic spending, saving $1.2 trillion over the next decade
The law’s fate grew murkier last week after House Republicans voted to suspend the country’s borrowing limit for three months, a proposal the White House and Senate Democrats have signaled they would accept.
In public, neither party is enthusiastic about sequestration, and some rank-and-file lawmakers say they will work to replace the cuts with other savings that would be less damaging to the military and other government services.
But time is running out for the two sides to agree on an alternative savings plan. Leaders in both parties said last week they believe the sequester will take effect — at least for a few weeks — while lawmakers wrestle with the expiration of the stopgap budget.
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said Sunday that he thinks the cuts are inevitable because Democrats oppose Republican proposals to replace them with alternatives, including reduced spending on financial reform, the health-care law and other programs.
“We think these sequesters will happen because the Democrats have opposed our efforts to replace those cuts with others and they’ve offered no alternatives,” Ryan said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Sen. Richard J. Durbin (Ill.), the chamber’s No. 2 Democrat, put the blame on Republicans. “Most of the Republican senators I’ve spoken to said: ‘We’re for spending cuts. We want sequestration to go forward,’ ” Durbin said last week. “So if there’s that sentiment . . . and with the House Republicans, I think we are committed to some form of sequestration spending cut.”
Agencies may be frustrated with all the back-and-forth, but companies and researchers in line for government funding are fuming.
“All they can say when I check with them is, ‘You’re still being considered for funding, but we can’t move forward at this time,’ ” said Stephen Higgins, a professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Vermont awaiting about $19 million in two grants from the National Institutes of Health to study chronic disease and smoking. “When [Congress] punted on sequestration, I knew I just took it on the chin.”