Yesterday the Senate failed to close debate on both S 16 and S 388, respectively the Republican and Democrat legislative efforts to stop the sequestration of federal spending under Section 251A of the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985 (2 USC 901a). The cloture vote on S 16 failed largely along party lines (with 8 Republicans voting against and 1 Democrat for). The cloture vote on S 388 failed upon more nearly party line votes (4 Democrats voting against).
Sen. Reid (D,NV) voted against both bills. Under Senate rules this allows him to request a reconsideration of the vote on the cloture motion on either bill. He is unlikely (in the extreme) to request such a reconsideration for S 16, but if he feels that an arrangement has been reached on S 388 that would allow passage, he would certainly so request for that bill. That will not happen today, and even if it did, the House has gone home for the weekend. The Sequester will happen.
Moving Forward – Near Term
So, today, before midnight, President Obama is required to order a cut of about $85 Billion dollars in federal spending over the remainder of the fiscal year. A lot has been written about what will happen because of those spending cuts, but most of that has been political theater. The closest we have to a real document is a memo published by the President on the 27th on the subject of Agency Responsibilities for Implementation of Potential Joint Committee Sequestration. A one sentence precise of that memo can be found on page one under Agency Planning Activities:
“Agencies' planning efforts must be guided by the principle of protecting the agency's mission to serve the public to the greatest extent practicable.”
Exactly what happens next depends in large extent on each individual agency. Nothing of consequence will happen this weekend, and probably little over the next couple of weeks.
Moving Forward – Longer Term
It is now time to start considering the next big budget fight; the current spending bill expires on March 27th. Congress needs to pass a continuing resolution for the remainder of FY 2013. This will provide another chance to avoid the worst potential problems associated with the sequester. Congress and the public will have a better idea of how the Administration is actually going to deal with the budget reduction mandated by the earlier budget deal. That may provide a starting point for adjusting the spending for the remainder of the fiscal year.