The path to altering the sequester trigger is a complicated one despite widespread opposition to the defense cuts from congressional Republicans and rhetorical support from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who has warned the cuts could inflict undue harm on the U.S military.
Senate Democrats are likely to take their cues from the White House. President Obama has previously suggested he could veto any attempt to alter the sequester rules, but now that supercommittee failure is a reality, the commander-in-chief could back off that threat as he faces his own re-election realities and a public second-guessing by his secretary of defense.
Already, the GOP presidential field is using the sequester to attack Obama on defense. "Our military gets the job done in life-threatening conditions every day, it's time the president and Congress get serious about cutting federal spending and balancing the federal budget," Texas GOP Gov. Rick Perry said in a statement.
Like most Democrats, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) does not support altering the sequester ratio of cuts, but a Democratic leadership aide acknowledged that if the White House did not support the defense cuts going in to effect, it would be easier to reach a 60-vote threshold to rewrite the trigger rules. If the White House stands firm in opposition to undoing the current sequester rule, then Reid will hold the line.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky., supports altering the sequester rule, but unless the White House is willing to negotiate, he will be hard-pressed to find the 60-votes he would need to rewrite current law.
In the House it would be easier for the GOP-controlled chamber to approve legislation altering the Budget Control Act, but not without some pushback. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said he feels obligated to honor the $1.2 trillion threshold for cuts - and his party will not stand for lowering the overall cuts - but he has not been equally committed to upholding the current 50-50 ratio of cuts.
McKeon is a close ally of Boehner, and he has privately assured the chairman that he will work to that end. A number of House Democrats, including Armed Services ranking member Adam Smith (D-Wash.), have voiced concerns about the defense cuts and would be amendable to renegotiating the rules.
Unless the Senate agrees to alter the law, House Republicans will be stuck with the law as is. This has given congressional Democrats some hope that they will be able to use the threat of sequester as a potential negotiating tool on the Bush tax cuts, which are set to expire right as the defense cuts will begin to take effect. Democrats would likely be willing to give on the defense cuts if Republicans were willing to negotiate on tax cuts for the wealthiest of Americans.
But that plan would take compromise, and so far this Congress has proven incapable of striking any kind of bargains, let alone grand ones.
Image credit: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP