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Doomsday is nigh

The super committee was Washington's last, best hope to save our beloved Republic from penury. It failed.

Now, the coming weeks will play out like the third act of the worst action movie you've ever seen. Remember that terrible Christian Slater vehicle from a few years ago in which he played a secret agent with a dual personality, and in his other personality he's a bad guy or something? That's Congress.

As the villain, Congress lashed the Pentagon into a James Bond-style death contraption -- let's say onto giant clockwork gears, clanking ever closer to oblivion -- and then in its hero mode, Congress tied itself up nearby to force itself to watch. Will Christian Slater Congress regain its senses in time to save its beloved Pentagon? Or will DoD be ground into mush by $950 billion in reduced budget growth over the next decade?

Melodramatic? Absolutely -- but the little scene we've spitballed here is nothing compared to the apocalyptic language we've heard both from the Building and from defense advocates up on the Hill. Sequestration would "be shooting ourselves in the head," as Secretary Panetta told Senate lawmakers -- it'll mean a million jobs lost, or more -- it'll make the U.S. vulnerable to actual villains in the real world, not just cardboard TV bad guys.

Well, maybe. Now that sequestration looks like it's going to be triggered -- though it wouldn't go into effect until January of 2013 -- it'll be interesting to see whether all this rhetoric goes away or gets ratcheted even higher. Defense advocates and an apparently growing number of their congressional allies want to use the delay between the activation and implementation of sequester to stop the gears and rescue the Pentagon.

But DoD isn't the only federal agency in danger from the Doomsday Device -- here's how POLITICO set the scene for the coming year, per Mike Allen's daily "Playbook" tipsheet:

The supercommittee's failure "will spark a messy year-end rush to prevent key programs from expiring, and intensifying efforts by disparate groups of lawmakers to push competing deficit-cutting proposals. On the legislative docket: extending unemployment insurance, fixing the Alternative Minimum Tax, reforming the reimbursement formula for physicians who treat Medicare patients and maintaining a payroll tax break first enacted in 2009. All of these expensive provisions are slated to expire at year's end and had been under consideration by the supercommittee under its fast-track procedures. ... [Now], Congress will have to confront these matters individually in the middle of a packed year-end legislative blitz and as funding for the entire government runs out Dec. 16. ... Republicans ... will continue their uphill climb to try to prevent the Bush-era tax cuts from expiring at the end of [2012].

"Plus, there's a growing push by defense hawks to blunt the so-called 'sequester' that would slice $600 billion out of Pentagon programs starting in 2013 ... The conservative Wall Street Journal editorial page Friday appeared to give some cover, indicating that the cuts to defense spending are not so bad. Even though the cuts in the trigger don't go into effect until 2013, the Pentagon has to start cutting. The Defense Department says it'll have to cut 200,000 troops in 2012. That has defense hawks vowing to spend 2012 reversing it. ... Republicans are considering packaging unemployment benefits and the so-called 'doc fix' with a bill filled with spending cuts - a duel-headed strategy to lessen the impact of the sequester by crafting a bill Obama could not turn down. Attaching the AMT and other measures could be a possibility."

So Congress' dead man's switch may not mean curtains for the Pentagon, but it also means that everybody else in town also will scramble to protect their rice bowls before 2013. In an election-year environment when, let's be honest, voters don't really care about defense issues, will that mean DoD can sneak out of the trap unobserved, or will it be doomed because it's at the bottom of the priorities list?

Tune in again to find out -- same Bat time, same Bat channel!

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