Longtime Washington deal makers said even they were dumbfounded at how debilitated Congress has become.
“So they came to an agreement [in 2011] that says, ‘this will force us to do something because if we don’t the results will be unbearable,’ ” said Harold Brown, who served as secretary of defense from 1977 to 1981 and serves on the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board. “It turns out even that doesn’t do it.”
The latest budget impasse has also seen the rift between the White House and House Republicans reemerge along familiar fault lines. The automatic cuts were initially scheduled to go into effect on Jan. 1, but an 11th hour deal was reached to avoid them as part of the so-called “fiscal cliff.” The compromise raised $600 billion in new taxes but delayed the automatic cuts only until March 1.
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and other House Republicans said at a news conference Monday that raising more taxes now is not an option.
“Mr. President, you got your tax increase,” Boehner remarked icily.
Republicans in the Senate, meanwhile, are crafting a proposal to give administration officials more flexibility in how to carry out the program cuts. But Carney said no amount of flexibility will erase the effect on homeland security and unemployment benefits, among other government services.
They are “imagining something that isn’t possible,” he said.
Still, a growing number of experts predict that the sequestration cuts, while harmful, won’t be as bad as lawmakers convey — especially if they are eventually reversed as part of a new budget plan.
Indeed, because Congress hasn’t passed a budget this year, it will have to adopt another continuing resolution by the end of March to prevent the government from partially closing for the first time since a 21-day shutdown in 1995 and 1996. If that resolution fails, another dire-sounding deadline will approach.
“March 27 is the real deadline,” said Adams. “If they don’t do something about that, the government will close down altogether.”
Bryan Bender can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeBender. Michael Kranish of the Globe Washington Bureau contributed.