If Congress were to override the cuts, the expert panel agreed that Medicare, and thus, healthcare providers who depend on its reimbursement, might not get off so easy a second time around. Medicare and Medicaid make up 42% of the national budget, but cuts to them are excluded or severely limited under the sequestration plan.
Congress probably never intended for the sequestration to actually happen as scheduled. Instead, many members who voted for it suggested that the pressure from the looming draconian cuts would force the recalcitrant lawmaking body to find compromise that would more equally allocate the burden of balancing the budget, which faces pressure not only from the sequester, but from the debt ceiling, also set by Congress, which might reach its limit by February 2013.
"An alternative budget strategy might well dig deeper into the Medicare program," said Sheila Burke, a senior public policy adviser at the law firm of Baker Donelson, Bearman Caldwell & Berkowitz. "It might also put Medicaid on the table."
Burke, who served for 19 years on Capitol Hill, ultimately as Deputy Staff Director of the Senate Finance Committee, speaks from experience.
"We're building to this," she says. "People are taking a hard line and there's not much middle ground."