Countdown to Sequestration: Six Months to Go

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This is our fourth monthly flag of the impending sequestration: if Congress and the President can’t agree on $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction over the coming decade, whack: automatic cuts begin January 2. Half that sum – about $600 billion – would come from national-security accounts.

The story line remains the same: the GOP wants all the deficit reduction accomplished by spending cuts; the Dems want some of it to come via increased taxes.

The cuts, which would trim Pentagon spending back to 2007’s level, would largely be across the board, with a likely exemption for personnel accounts.

Because we’re in a game of political chicken, the normal rules don’t apply.

Normal rules would require the Pentagon to begin planning for the cuts, so it could inform its various constituencies how each is going to be affected. But that would make too much sense. Rep. Howard McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the armed services committee, thinks the Pentagon is fudging when it says it isn’t planning for the looming additional cuts. “It would be nice to assume that they always tell us the truth. But it’s hard for me to believe that the military people that I know would just sit on their hands and not plan for this — it’s too big a deal,” he said recently. “I hope they were just kind of telling us a little fib and they really are doing some thinking and some planning.

Even more sensibly, the Administration and Congress could avert sequestration by coming up with a budget that makes the required reductions in a smart way, protecting some accounts while jettisoning others. But that, too, makes too much sense.

Some congressional veterans don’t think it’s going to happen. “It was designed to have a powerful deterrent, a powerful incentive to reach an agreement,” Senator Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate’s armed services committee, noted recently. “Sometimes I describe it like a nuclear weapon — they’re not designed to be used.”

Perhaps. Nonetheless, we have run out of money. Budget cuts are coming. They can be smart, or stupid. Your call. But time is running short.

Ha! No it’s not…there’s already buzz that Congress may simply change the law to delay the January 2 chop date by three months. Levin notes that lawmakers have “special gym shoes” for kicking problems into the future.