That could mean that during the next seven months there would be $85 billion in painful, across-the-board cuts — $46 billion in defense and $39 billion in non-defense discretionary spending — leading up to Oct. 1 and the end of the fiscal year.
I write “could mean” because Congress magically always seems to find a way to lessen the pain for most people while performing its kicking-the-can-down-the-road routine.
Remember, there’s another fiscal deadline little more than a month away — March 27, when the temporary fiscal 2013 Continuing Appropriations Resolution runs out and Congress starts scrambling for funds to run the entire government for the rest of the year.
Of course, there is a history to all this.
In April 2011, three months after Republicans took control of the House, a last-minute government shutdown was averted with a $39 billion GOP-demanded budget cut for the second half of fiscal 2011, primarily in return for allowing funding of the newly passed Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).
That set the stage for a deadline battle over extending the debt limit. In August 2011, it was the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA), a deal to increase the debt limit while at the same time capping some $1 trillion over 10 years in future spending with the promise to come up with another $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction through additional tax revenue and spending reductions.
A bipartisan presidential commission was established to come up with a program. Democrats and Republicans agreed there needed to to be an automatic trigger to force a compromise. So the sequester idea was built into the legislation.
Republicans wanted the trigger to automatically cut domestic spending programs that would be unacceptable to Democrats; the White House and Hill Democrats threw in defense spending cuts, which they believed Republicans would not accept.
And so the sequester trigger was born. When the commission failed to reach agreement, the trigger was to be pulled last month.
In the interim, we in the media have aided and abetted this fiscal charade, quoting often conflicting statements by politicians and officials without trying to accurately deal with what either group said.
Reduced to slogans, this type of debate has confused the limited public that pays attention, alienated most others and fueled the partisan nature of all discussion.
Take the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 as signed by President Obama on Jan. 3, the bill that at the last minute prevented the country from going over the so-called fiscal cliff, deferred sequester, and instead kicked the can down the road.
The act is best known for raising the personal tax rates to 39.6 percent for individuals earning more than $400,000 and couples earning $450,000. It also raised capital gains rates for those taxpayers and in some cases limited their deductions.