During the epic deficits-and-debt donnybrook of mid-2011, two top aides to President Barack Obama proposed an ultimatum so onerous that Congress and the White House surely wouldn’t let it happen.
In his book “The Price of Politics,” Bob Woodward of The Washington Post recounted how Jack Lew, then director of Obama’s Office of Management and Budget, and Rob Nabors, the president’s legislative affairs director, brought the notion of a “sequester” to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid mid-afternoon July 27, 2011. As the idea rapidly evolved: A failure of Congress (via its “supercommittee”) and the White House to agree on substantial deficit reductions would trigger automatic, across-the-board budget cuts.
Members of both parties voted for that provision and Obama signed it into law. But the New Year’s 2013 deal that raised taxes to avoid the “fiscal cliff” also delayed the sequester’s impact — $85 billion over the rest of this fiscal year — until March 1. Democrats expected all along that some agreement would exterminate the sequester and preserve full funding to politically popular domestic programs. They also assumed that Republicans wouldn’t permit the sequester’s deep cuts to defense spending. Instead, Republicans now seem resigned to the reality that across-the-board cuts are better than no cuts, or new tax increases.