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Why March 1 isn't Congress's last chance to amend 'sequester' cuts

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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.

“If there’s a deal to fund the government” through Sept. 30, says Mr. Davis, “it’s almost a no-brainer to add a sequester replacement to it.”

But Rogers, for one, is determined not to conflate the sequester cuts and the government-funding bills – and early signs are that Democrats in Congress may, warily, go along with that.

“The chairman’s intention is to keep the two things separate. That’s the reason he has proposed this as early as he has,” says the House Republican aide, whose name is not being used because he spoke on background. Rogers “is doing what he can to take this one issue [of a possible government shutdown] off the table, so [House GOP] leadership and the White House and the powers-that-be can be can continue to negotiate on the other looming problems.”

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