Massie’s provision seeks to light a fire under lawmakers by setting a January 1 deadline for the process. At that point, if all Congress does is pass the continuing funding rate resolutions of the previous fiscal year, then the spending caps for fiscal 2024 will reset to a much different level than on the expected debt ceiling agreement.
The $886.3 billion cap on defense and related programs for fiscal 2024 would fall to $849.8 billion, or 1 percent below the enacted fiscal 2023 numbers. For nondefense programs, the fiscal 2024 cap will actually increase, from $703.7 billion to $736.4 billion, albeit 1 percent below the current fiscal year.
The new caps apply to all programs, even those on any of the dozens of spending bills that Biden has already signed into law. But lawmakers still have until April 30 before the sequester enforcement mechanism kicks in. And if Congress turns to a full-year continuing resolution instead of completing regular spending bills, the sequester could be extinguished.
Although there is a small possibility that the backstop cuts will be triggered, it is worth looking at how they will be implemented.
Sequesters of discretionary funds are extremely rare because appropriators almost always comply with whatever statutory caps are in place. But drastic cuts in appropriations occurred in 2013, after the “supercommittee” established by the 2011 debt limit law failed to agree on a deficit reduction package.