posted on February 28, 2013 17:20
On Feb. 28, the U.S. Senate rejected both Republican and Democratic plans to stop the sequester. The Republican plan – pioneered by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) – would have let President Barack Obama come up with alternative cuts by March 15. Democrats had a mix of taxes and other spending cuts in their version.
If there were to be eleventh-hour negations to stop the sequester, they would be happening by now. They are not. Sequestration will kick in as scheduled on March 1 and slowly the effects will begin to be felt around the country – weeks, not days, as lawmakers have no plans to stay in session over the weekend as the sequester hits.
President Obama will sit down with House of Representatives and Senate leadership from both parties March 1. The talks are designed to be a "constructive discussion" about how to minimize the impact of the cuts, according to White House spokesman Jay Carney. Carney conceded that any plan to avoid the cuts is unlikely to succeed before they take effect. Carney also said that sequestration will officially begin when President Obama is required to sign and executive order on March 1.
Big swaths of the government will remain untouched by sequestration. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, programs that will be shielded include Social Security benefits, Veterans Affairs services, refundable tax-credit payments, and some economic recovery programs. The White House also acknowledged that the most dramatic effects will not hit right away.
Agencies also have some flexibility in the timing of the sequester cuts, says Charles Konigsberg, a former assistant director of the Office of Management and Budget during the Clinton Administration. Federal agencies could, for instance, delay implementing any cuts until the summer or fall. Of course, this strategy could backfire if Congress does not act and an agency runs out of money; but if a budget officer is willing to take the risk, such a move could also buy the agencies time and possibly more money through the fiscal year …with the assumption that Congress eventually undoes sequestration.
So what is a possible solution? The American people may have an idea. In a Pew/USA Today poll this month, 76 percent said the president and Congress should pass a combination of spending cuts and tax increases to reduce the budget deficit, versus 19 percent who said tax hikes should be off the table.