So says The Hill, with good reason — Congress has taken a break with just two weeks to go before the deadline. The House and Senate won’t return until February 25th, which only gives them three days to cut a deal to avoid it. That won’t be nearly enough time, and is out of the question if John Boehner sticks to his pledge of normal-order budgeting. The question now will be how long it lasts rather than whether it hits:
The question in Washington is no longer whether the automatic spending cuts known as the sequester will be implemented: It’s when and even if the spending reductions will ever be shut off.
The $85 billion in cuts looming on March 1 would run through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, leaving more than $900 billion in cuts for Congress and the White House to wrangle with over the next nine years.
Pressure may intensify to pass sequester legislation in March as federal workers are furloughed and Pentagon and other government programs are cut.
But the cuts seem also certain to begin rolling given the vast distance between Democrats and Republicans over how to avert them.
One measure of the urgency given this deadline is the very fact that no one felt compelled to stick around next week to deal with it. Another measure is the fact that it’s been a well-known deadline for months now, and yet it took until yesterday for Senate Democrats to offer an alternative to the sequester — and one they knew would be completely unacceptable to the House. That was just a proposal, and a preliminary one at that, with no legislative language for consideration. (The House has twice passed a replacement package that the Senate won’t even consider.)
Of course, at different times both parties have expressed support for letting the sequester hit. Democrats thought it was a great idea when the White House demanded that Republicans accept it in the summer 2011 budget deal, and as late as just a few months ago, Barack Obama scolded Republicans for trying to “wriggle out” of the deal. When Republicans embraced the cuts, suddenly Democrats started talking about how dangerous they are. Perhaps neither side is terribly anxious in reality to undo the only reductions in spending that they’ve so far managed to produce, and that’s why they’re all leaving town rather than deal with the consequences.
If that doesn’t seem terribly dignified, don’t tell Nancy Pelosi. She complained yesterday that the sequester would reduce the “dignity” of Congress and their staffs by forcing them to work for less money. No, seriously:
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Thursday that she opposes a cut in congressional pay because it would diminish the dignity of lawmakers’ jobs.
“I don’t think we should do it; I think we should respect the work we do,” Pelosi told reporters in the Capitol. “I think it’s necessary for us to have the dignity of the job that we have rewarded.”
The comments were made in the context of the looming sequester, which would force across-the-board cuts affecting most federal offices, including Congress. With lawmakers nowhere near a deal to avert those cuts, federal agencies are bracing for ways to absorb them with minimum damage to programs and personnel.
Ahem. Is this the same body that hasn’t produced a single normal-order budget since 2009, despite being required by law to do so? What exactly have they done with “dignity” on Capitol Hill during that time? They shouldn’t get paid at all if they can’t even bother to budget, one of their core responsibilities. There may be many things wrong with the sequester as it is currently constituted, but the insult to Congressional dignity is pretty far down the priority list.