Welcome to Sequester Day! How will you celebrate and/or mourn? And what is your government doing to put a stop to it? The short answer, so far, is nothing. Congress already went home for the weekend, and the White House isn't scrambling to craft a rescue package. There's still time to make a deal, but it's highly unlikely that there will be one.
So what does happen today?
As a technical matter, the sequestration doesn't happen until President Obama orders it and he has until midnight tonight, to do so. Sometime today the Office of Management and Budget will order all federal agencies to cut their budgets by around nine percent, except for the Pentagon which needs to cut defense programs by 13 percent. The President's signature will formalize that order, but Press Secretary Jay Carney has already said that Obama will wait until the last possible moment to sign it, so most of you can go about your normal Friday and save the panicking for the weekend.
It is important to note what the sequester won't cut. Entitlement programs—Social Security, Medicaid, unemployment insurance—are mostly exempt. The size of those checks won't change and they will get mailed out. Defense is hit hard, but they will have to make cuts to any active combat operations, like Afghanistan, or take money from uniformed soliders in the field.
The midnight deadline also gives the President and leaders of Congress one more day to try and come up with some kind of compromise, even if it's just a continuing resolution that gives them more time to not compromise. Obama will even meet with the senior leaders from the House and Senate on Friday, but don't hold your breath. Neither side looks willing to budge on taxes and for some people, particularly the deficit hawks in the House, sequester is exactly what they want. Some of the House Republicans are so eager to slash the budget that $85 billion in cuts that can't be avoided is being taken as a gift.
The fact that the cuts won't come all at once plays into their hands as well, since most Americans won't feel the pain for several days or weeks, if they feel it at all. It takes 30 to 60 days for the government to lay anyone off, so no one is losing their job this weekend. Services may be scaled back at National Parks and museums, but as long as they are open vistors will see it as more of an annoyance than a disaster. The pain will be slow and subtle and develop over weeks, not hours. The worst consequences may not even be known after they've already happened.
We don't know what's in the sequester until we go through the sequester. #fallbackposition— John Dickerson (@jdickerson) March 1, 2013
So for now, all Americans can do is still back and wait, since that seems to be what the Republicans and Democrats are doing. They both seem content to let this play out for awhile, believing public opinion will come to their side and the leverage will eventually favor them. It's a gamble for both sides, but particularly for Congressmen and women who are already well-known for not getting things done. John Boehner may be a hero to his caucus, but if unemployment numbers start ticking up and tax refunds start showing up late, we'll see if the blame falls on him or his rivals.