WASHINGTON - The Washington Post reports that the odds are increasing - perhaps to the point of near certainty - that the so-called "sequester" will take effect March 1.
This would be a pity.
For non-budget wonks, the sequester mandates about $1 trillion in government spending cuts over nine years, divided between defense and non-defense programs.
These would be the wrong cuts, done in the wrong way. There's a better approach.
First, some background:
The sequester was never intended to take effect.
It was designed as a sledgehammer to force congressional leaders to negotiate deficit reductions. The sequester would occur only if there were no agreement.
The required cuts were thought to be so mindless - affecting good programs and bad while providing little flexibility to make choices - that the congressional leaders would have to agree.
Well, they didn't. The sequester was originally scheduled to start Jan. 1. As a part of the "fiscal cliff" negotiations, Congress delayed that until March 1.
But now without an agreement, the sequester looms again.
The consequences would be widespread. The Pentagon would have to cut spending 8.8 percent, estimates Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a think tank specializing in defense issues.
Among civilian workers, there would almost certainly be furloughs. Procurement contracts would have to be rewritten to reduce purchases; interestingly, the unit costs of weapons and other supplies would probably rise, as fixed costs were spread over shorter production runs.
Training would be cut, leaving the services less prepared for combat.
Dozens of non-defense programs would suffer cuts averaging about 5 percent, according to Richard Kogan of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal think tank.
These would include: the FBI, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Park Service, the Department of Homeland Security - and many more.