In the fiscal cliff debate, it all came down to a single day: Dec. 31, 2012.
The limited deal legislators struck that day means we're now facing a protracted debate strung out over the next three months, with deadlines popping up every few weeks. Some are just politically symbolic; others carry very real and serious consequences.
In theory, a sweeping budget agreement would take render nearly all of these deadlines moot. But Congress and the White House have failed time and again to pull that off, making it more likely that we'll muddle through from deadline to deadline. Here's what happens when:
Feb. 4: The president is required by law to release a 2014 budget on the first Monday of February. The White House has already said that its budget will be late, citing delays because of the fiscal cliff negotiations, and it's likely to hold off until congressional Democrats can agree on what budget offer they want to make. But the president will likely lay down some markers the following week, in his Feb. 12 State of the Union speech.
March 1: The sequester is scheduled to take effect, as the Jan 1. fiscal cliff deal only replaced the automatic spending cuts for two months. Senate Democrats have agreed to put out a budget resolution for 2014 by this date as well, per House Republicans' request. But this is just a blueprint that will still have to be reconciled with the House's own budget. That means that Congress will have to find another short-term fix for the sequester cuts if it wants to keep it from taking effect.
March 27: The short-term budget funding the government's discretionary spending expires, as Congress only passed a six-month Continuing Resolution in late September 2012. The spending levels have already set by the 2011 debt-ceiling deal, which placed strict caps on spending. But both President Obama and Republicans have agreed to further discretionary cuts, reopening those caps. If Congress still hasn't come to a budget deal, the GOP could use the CR as a point of leverage to extract cuts, threatening to shut down the government unless their demands are met.
April 15: Both the House and the Senate will be required to adopt a budget resolution for fiscal year 2014. If they don't, then legislators will have their pay put into escrow beginning April 16 until one is passed. However, regardless of what happens, any withheld pay will be given to legislators at the end of the current Congress because of the 27th amendment.
May 19: The three-month suspension of the debt-ceiling expires, which means that we risk breaching the debt limit unless Congress acts again. However, it appears that the Treasury Department would once again be able to use "extraordinary measures" to buy a few weeks more time, which means that May 19 wouldn't be a drop-dead date.