Countdown to Sequestration: Four Months to Go

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The law lets the President opt to exempt military personnel from sequester's impact. That means most other accounts will be cut by about 10% if it happens.

Gosh, we started this countdown five months ago, and darned if the nation’s “leaders” have made absolutely no progress toward dealing with the country’s fiscal mess. As you may recall, last year’s Budget Control Act set into motion this thing called sequestration.

What it means is that if the White House and Congress can’t agree by Jan. 2 (four months from today) on $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction over the coming decade – in the form of spending cuts, tax hikes, or some combination thereof – that much will be automatically cut from government spending.

Roughly half that sum – between $500 billion and $600 billion – will come from the Pentagon and other national-security accounts. If it happens, it’ll be a mess, inefficient and an indictment of leaders who can’t get the job done.

“You’ve been hearing some folks out there trying to talk about the budget and trying to scare you,” President Obama told troops at Fort Bliss in Texas on Friday. “Last year, you know, Congress pledged to find a plan to reduce the deficit, and they said if they couldn’t agree, there’d be big cuts across the board, including defense. But understand, nobody wants these cuts. That’s why Congress threatened them, to force themselves to make our decisions. Well, here’s the thing: there’s no reason those cuts should happen, because folks in Congress ought to come together and agree on a responsible plan that reduces the deficit and keeps our military strong.”

But even if sequestration takes place, it will pare defense spending back only to 2006’s level. It’s not going to be the disaster some predict.

But it has becoming increasingly clear: this problem is not going to be dealt with until after the election, if at all. If there’s a mandate one way or the other – doubtful – that could force Republicans to accept some tax increases. If not, look for a doubling in defense-spending cuts.