President Obama says the defense sequester "will not happen" in January. How? The debate offered no guidance.

To recap: The sequester is a deficit-reduction backstop adopted by both parties in Congress and signed by the president last summer. It threatens to slice nearly $100 billion out of agency budgets in the fiscal year that ends next September, with half the cuts hitting the Pentagon.

Neither party is eager for the cuts to take effect, but they are in a standoff over other parts of the year-end "fiscal cliff," primarily the fate of expiring tax cuts for the wealthy. Absent an agreement to let those tax cuts expire, Obama has threatened to veto fiscal cliff legislation. He also opposes legislation that cancels the defense cuts without replacing the cuts to domestic programs as well.