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Running to stand still


Senate Republicans this week announced they want to duplicate House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon's proposal to postpone "sequestration" by one year. Democrats said no. Unless you're really interested in the details of how Congress doesn't do things, you can stop paying attention now.

In fact, if your main concern is the $500 billion in defense budget growth that would automatically be "sequestered" next January, you can probably stop paying attention until at least Election Day. As evidenced this week, lawmakers will probably spend the next 10 months with their hands over their hearts, castigating their foes and spraining themselves trying to top each other with praise for "the troops" -- but with no result.

Defense advocates apparently don't draw enough water with House and Senate leaders to get them to make a legitimate run at the "comprehensive" deficit reduction deal that President Obama says the U.S. needs. So now they have offered two -- one each in the House and Senate -- identical proposals to specifically protect their pet sections of the budget. (For one year.) No dice.

In fact, a group of 127 House Democrats, led by Reps. Peter Welch of Vermont and George Miller  of California, sent a letter to Obama on Thursday expressing their support for his threat to veto any of the Republicans' attempts at getting DoD out of jail free:

With the failure of the Super Committee to reach a deficit reduction agreement, we write in full support of your view that the sequester scheduled to take effect on January 2, 2013 should not be repealed or amended absent an agreement to reduce deficits that meets or exceeds the amount to be sequestered. The failure of Congress to act must have consequences. We stand ready to work with you over the next year to put America back on a firm financial footing and will vote to sustain your veto of any effort to repeal all or part of the scheduled sequester.
Republicans, however, cast the deadlock in a whole different way, discounting last year's "super committee" farce and arguing that they're at least trying to resolve this situation while Obama twiddles his thumbs. "This is our proposal," Arizona Sen. John McCain told POLITICO's Chuck Hoskinson. "The president has no proposal.”

Obama, for his part, wants to press Congress to try again on a broad deficit reduction deal like the one the super committee couldn't get. But with everyone involved mentally fast-forwarding toward what they'll do once their side takes control in November, nothing will happen in the interim. And even if sequestration's guillotine does fall, many people believe Congress could just retroactively make it disappear -- assuming the next Congress can actually act to do anything.

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