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Sequester Becomes Silver Lining

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Although Sen. Charles Schumer originally described the sequester as "a sword of equal sharpness and strength hanging over each party's head," many lawmakers are now comfortable with letting the automatic spending cuts take effect after the failure of the deficit panel.

In recent weeks, outside advocates on the left and right have come to the conclusion that a deadlocked panel was better than one that compromised.

The Cato Institute’s Daniel Mitchell urged Republicans to “take the sequester and declare victory” in a blog post last month.

Robert Borosage, co-director of the liberal Campaign for America’s Future, appeared before the Congressional Progressive Caucus with the message: “The super committee must fail.”

Many lawmakers are concerned about the consequences of the cuts, particularly regarding the Pentagon budget, which would face $600 billion in mandatory reductions over nine years. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has laid out dire warnings about the consequences to the nation’s security.

For that reason, there already is talk — largely from Republicans — about modifying the configuration of the cuts to shield the military from the most painful measures.

Because the spending reductions are not scheduled to begin until January 2013, Congress has more than a year to act.

The impending cuts are also serving to blunt the effect of the panel’s inaction on financial markets.

“We do not expect an immediate downgrade of U.S. sovereign debt, but the rating agencies may revisit the issue in 2012, especially if Congress scraps the sequestration mechanism,” Brian Gardner, an analyst at the brokerage firm Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, wrote in a research note Monday.

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) dismissed a question Nov. 20 on whether he felt a sense of urgency to reach a deal, perhaps to prevent a ratings company from downgrading the United States’ debt, as Standard & Poor’s did in August.

“Well, again, there’s going to be $1.2 trillion in savings, whether the committee agrees on a method of doing it or it happens automatically,” Kyl said. “So this shouldn’t foster a downgrade or run on the market or anything like that — $1.2 trillion in savings occurs one way or the other.”

Ben Weyl is a reporter for CQ.

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