Let’s backtrack for a moment, just to make sure everyone’s clear about the March itinerary.
First up, on March 1, is the sequester, that package of $85 billion in automatic spending cuts that has created a buzz about looming air-travel delays, cuts in student aid, furloughs for defense workers, fewer detentions of illegal immigrants, limited access to national parks, and so on. Though almost no one likes the sequester’s across-the-board approach to the cuts, it looks as if Congress will not agree upon a different way to come up with the $85 billion by the end of this month.
But the nation will get a little grace period before most effects of sequestration are felt. That’s because government employees being furloughed need to receive roughly a month’s notice and because some military spending can likely be jostled around to prevent deep disruptions for a few weeks. Hence, lawmakers are expected to begin serious negotiations during the first two weeks of March to adjust – or perhaps even replace – the sequester.
Meanwhile, funds to operate the government run out on March 27, the midpoint of the fiscal year. Congress needs to appropriate money to the various agencies and departments or, voilá, a shutdown. But how much money is always the rub. Lately, Congress has been opting to simply continue funding at levels set by the 2011 debt-ceiling deal, the Budget Control Act.
It’s not a giant leap of logic to see that any revised package of sequester cuts could be rolled into bills designed to keep the government’s lights on for the rest of the fiscal year – the very period over which the first of the sequester cuts will take effect. Such reasoning leads Pete Davis of Davis Capital Investment Ideas, a former staff member of the Senate Budget Committee, to proclaim that March 27 is “the real deadline” for Washington’s sequester decisions.