A small group of lawmakers still thinks it can avert the budget sequestration due to take effect at the start of 2013, and it was set to roll out its master plan on Wednesday.
Senate Republicans John McCain, Jon Kyl, Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte, as well as Connecticut's independent Sen. Joe Lieberman, think they've got the formula to cut the budget enough, in enough other places, to avert the $500 billion in reduced budget growth over 10 years.
Why can they succeed where the now-disgraced super committee failed? Can this, an overtly pro-defense coalition, protect its own rice bowl by prevailing on every other interest area to accept cuts? Can it convince President Obama to lift his promise to veto legislation that would void the sequester without the "comprehensive" $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction that was the original goal here?
Anything's possible. The Redskins might beat the Giants on Sunday.
But it's just as likely that, under this year's gridlock playbook, Hill defense advocates just need a prop they can use when they rail against the president and Democrats' reluctance to "protect" DoD's budget. It's an old technique: The White House knew Obama's vaunted "jobs bill" would go nowhere in this Congress, but it needed a symbol for its storyline of Republican obstructionism, so Obama sent the Hill something that could never pass. Defense advocates may want to copy that play.
With a Protecting America Act in play, pro-defense Republicans could try to make Obama the bad guy on the threat of defense reductions, even though congressional negotiators were just as responsible for the debt ceiling agreement that created the failed super committee and the sequester. As we've discussed before, that might make 2012 a simple staring contest between the president and Republican opponents: Obama refuses to budge on his veto threat, betting fewer people care about defense than everything else that's going on, while defense advocates bet he'll have to yield or risk losing votes in defense job-rich states such as Pennsylvania.
It's also possible none of that will be necessary: The spirit of Christmas could warm the hearts of Washington's elected leaders, and they could come together in the spirit of the public good to do the business of the American people and end the country's impasse of governance.