With little indication that political leaders are willing to reach a compromise on government spending and taxation priorities, the Friday sequester deadline will be followed by (at least) four more budget crises created by Washington politicians.
The sequester was a set of reductions in the growth of government spending that went into effect on Friday as part of the Budget Control Act (2011). The cuts in spending growth were designed to be so painful that they would force even a deeply divided Congress and president to agree to a long term deficit reduction plan. But, they were not painful enough to encourage political leaders to engage in one of the most fundamental aspects of Democratic governance: compromise.
The failure of the sequester to enforce an adherence to Democratic norms of policymaking on the nation's political leaders bodes ill for what lies ahead. In the coming months, Congress and President Barack Obama will need to fund the government for the rest of the current fiscal year, pass funding for the next fiscal year, pass a federal budget and increase the debt limit.
The federal government is currently funded by a six month continuing resolution because Congress never agreed to a funding bill for FY 2013. That resolution expires at the end of March. So, Congress has less than a month to fund the government for the rest of the current fiscal year. If it fails to do so, a government shutdown will begin on April 1.
At the same time, Congress must also begin working on funding bills for FY 2014. If past is prologue, then this congressional responsibility will be delayed until that last possible moment, or Congress may pass another continuing resolution.
Last month, Obama signed into law the No Budget, No Pay Act of 2013. That law suspended the nation's debt limit until May 18, at which time the debt limit will be increased by an amount equal to the debt incurred until then. The Bipartisan Policy Center estimates that the debt limit will need to be increased again in August.
The law also requires Congress to pass a budget or its members pay will be suspended (which may be a violation of the Constitution).
Congress decided it needed a budget to lower deficit spending in 1974 when it passed the Budget and Impoundment Control Act. This law requires Congress to pass a budget each year. The U.S. Senate, though, has been in violation of that law since 2009, the last time it passed a budget. With the No Budget, No Pay Act, House Republicans have essentially shamed the Democratic-controlled Senate into passing a budget. Senate leaders now say they will pass a budget this year.
Normally, the budget process begins with a budget proposal from the president. Under the Budget and Accounting Act of 1921, the president submits a budget to Congress in the first week of February of each year. The White House, though, missed that deadline. Obama now says that his budget will delivered to Congress on March 25.