Congress and the White House failed to prevent $1.2 trillion in budget cuts from taking effect Friday, missing two deadlines during a three-month partisan fight. But many lawmakers are already looking past the unresolved standoff over the sequester to two other self-inflicted financial crises that must be addressed in coming weeks.
Lawmakers have until March 27 to secure a spending compromise that would continue funding government operations after April 1. The current continuing resolution that's keeping the government open for now expires this month. If Democrats and Republicans fail to reach a compromise, most of the federal government would shut down.
Congress also is wrestling with the question of whether to raise the nation's borrowing limit, or debt ceiling. The Obama administration said the government will reach its current $16.4 trillion limit as soon as mid-March. If President Obama and congressional Republicans fail to raise the borrowing limit, the U.S. government would default on its obligations for the first time in its history.
As sweeping as the sequester cuts will be, those reductions will be phased in over a decade. And while the government is warning that thousands of federal workers could be furloughed, it will be at least a month before agencies actually feel pressure to cut expenses.
The continuing resolution and debt-ceiling debates, however, could prove far more crippling to the government. And those negotiations will grow more complicated, lawmakers said, if the sequester cuts become part of the broader negotiation over the continuing resolution and the debt ceiling.
If past budget negotiations are any indication, the White House and Congress will begin the debate immediately on the looming crises but put off any action until the very last minute.
That kind of bipartisan brinkmanship has prevented the two sides from resolving financial problems before. Indeed, many of the issues with which lawmakers are wrestling now are the result of their repeated failures to reach a compromise on these same issues since 2011.