The House of Representatives offered the Pentagon a slight reprieve from what was building up to be a stressful March by voting to delay the debt ceiling debate from March to May.
This means a great deal to the Pentagon because pushing the debt limit talks out of March means Congress can focus more so on the expiration of the continuing resolution and the sequestration deadline that both fall in March.
It appears likely that the Senate will pass the measure and the White House has said it will not oppose it. The House approved the measure in a 285-144 vote.
Pentagon leaders and Congressional members had started to tout “March Madness” as the latest political buzz word to capture the confluence of coming budget debates that would all fall in March. Originally, the deadlines for the debt ceiling, continuing resolution and sequestration would occur weeks apart from each other.
Congressional staff members warned that those competing negotiations would leave the Defense Department exposed to the sequester cuts combined with the extension of the continuing resolution (CR). Those same staff members had said earlier in 2012 that the sequester cuts of about $500 billion over the next decade would likely be avoided. However, those opinions changed as it appeared that Congress would have to tackle all three debates at once.
Pentagon officials and defense analysts worried that the defense budget would be used as a chip in the negotiations as lawmakers from both sides locked horns over tax rates and entitlement reforms. That still remains a possibility, but it’s less likely as the debt ceiling debate will no happen two months after Congress decides on sequestration and the debt limit.
That’s, of course, is assuming that Congress doesn’t extend the CR or delay the sequestration deadline once again.