March 1, 2013
Today’s the day: the dreaded sequester is finally upon us.
Except that it isn’t.
The $85 billion across the board spending cuts known as the sequester have not yet taken effect. In fact, there’s still time for the White House and Congress to come up with a compromise to prevent them. President Obama has until 11:59 p.m. to sign the order implementing sequestration.
While compromise doesn’t seem likely given the toxic political environment, why not pretend the glass is half full? Of course, odds are that the sides remain at opposite poles. We’ve broken down the four potential courses of action:
1. Obama signs the sequestration order by the end of the day. If the president signs the order, sequestration goes into effect. But it’s not clear what the impact would be, and it wouldn’t be immediate. Federal workers cannot be placed immediately on furlough, and implementing the spending cuts would take some time. On Monday, Washington in sequester will look very much like Washington today.
2. Congress passes a bill suspending sequestration and Obama signs it. It’s still possible for Congress to pass a bill next week delaying the cuts (the Senate considered two approaches yesterday). It would then go to the White House for Obama’s signature. If this happens, sequestration would be put off for an unspecified amount of time, or eliminated altogether.
3. Obama simply ignores the bill requiring sequestration. Technically it’s against the law. But he’s the president: who’s going to force him to sign?
4. Congress and Obama compromise. This is probably the least-likely option, but it’s still possible. The president is meeting with Democratic and Republican leaders from the House and Senate this morning. Maybe there are secret back-channel negotiations taking place. Maybe they’ll all just shake hands and agree to forget this whole sequestration thing. Then again, maybe not.
Other possible courses of action do exist, but these four are the most likely. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle don’t seem in the mood to compromise. But in politics, you never know.