Here, too, there would probably be furloughs; some projects would be delayed or canceled; grants to states and localities would be trimmed.
With hindsight, the sequester's failure to compel consensus seems understandable. For Republicans, the sequester guarantees spending reductions - even if many abhor the defense cuts - and avoids tax increases.
Democrats may dislike the domestic cuts, but they also know that the biggest social programs are off the table - Social Security, Medicaid and most of Medicare (Medicare is subject to a 2 percent cut, but all of that would come from lower payment rates to doctors, hospitals and other providers).
As important, the impact on the public would be modest. Of course, there would be an orgy of media stories on the disruptions. Some national parks might close temporarily; food inspections might decline; Head Start classes might shut; border patrols might drop.
But most Americans wouldn't be affected directly and wouldn't, therefore, pressure their elected officials to reach agreement.
To be effective, a sequester has to hit millions of Americans so hard that, if it took effect, mobs of outraged voters would storm Capitol Hill.
Here's my modest proposal to do that.
Unless congressional negotiators agreed on at least $1 trillion in deficit cuts over a decade - personally, I'd go higher - then the desired amount would be raised in two ways: half from across-the-board income tax increases and half from across-the-board Social Security cuts.
People would see their take-home pay and retiree benefits reduced. There would be no mystery.
I don't doubt that this sequester would force an agreement. It would probably include some cuts in Social Security and some tax increases along with cuts in defense and domestic programs.
It would be more balanced than the present sequester. Leaders would have to judge the worth of specific programs against the burdens of specific tax increases. They could argue over the timing of tax and spending changes.
All this would be healthy.
It won't happen. Truth in journalism: I have proposed this before. There were no takers. It would astonish me if there were any now.
But the point is that there is a path to agreement. The fact that our so-called leaders don't take it reflects their calculation that disagreeing is better politics.