Congress Lumbers Toward Sequestration

February 25, 2013
Talking Points Memo
Brian Beutler

Monday marks the beginning of the last legislative week until sequestration begins and federal agencies start scaling back government services and furloughing workers — and even the most optimistic of politicians don’t think congressional leaders will figure out a way to avoid it.

Indeed, if anything’s odd about how this most recent self-imposed crisis is playing out in Washington it’s that everyone’s being very blasé about it — or at least pretending to be.

The lone exception is President Obama, who will travel to Newport News, Va., on Tuesday to remind the public about sequestration’s harmful economic impact at a shipbuilding facility that will be among the first hit when the Navy pares back construction and maintenance programs. His administration, including cabinet secretaries and popular surrogates, will ramp up a public relations offensive over the coming days to highlight the real consequences of sequestration to the public.

But back in D.C., congressional leaders are hardly even pretending to negotiate a viable sequestration replacement plan. Later in the week, the Senate will vote on Democratic and Republican sequestration alternatives, but both are expected to fail.

Republican and Democratic leadership aides believe negotiations won’t begin in earnest until after the sequestration order is issued. The question is how long those negotiations drag on.

On March 27, appropriations for federal agencies will expire, and the government will shut down unless Congress passes a new funding measure. But accomplishing that while complying with sequestration’s spending reduction demands will be logistically difficult, not to mention politically impossible.

Republicans continue to refuse to pay down the sequester with any new tax revenues, which Democrats insist must be part of any negotiated agreement. If they hold on to that position for a full month, the government will shut down, significantly amplifying the visible consequences of the sequestration fight.

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