'We are deeply divided'
Now the deficit issues will be worked on without the protection a supercommittee deal could have offered — such as a guaranteed congressional vote and the ability to debate them without being filibustered. The debate also will include whether to continue the Bush-era tax cuts, which were enacted as a temporary measure and are scheduled to expire at the end of next year.
Republicans would like to continue them for all incomes, arguing that a slow economy is not the time to raise rates. President Obama has pushed for keeping the tax breaks for families earning less than $250,000 a year but allowing higher rates to return for wealthier families.
Already, lawmakers are complaining about the automatic cuts. Sepp says he is concerned that liberal lawmakers worried about domestic programs and conservatives upset over military reductions will work together to undo the sequester. That, he says, likely would lead to a downgrade of the U.S. credit rating.
Because the automatic cuts don't kick in until 2013, lawmakers could try to undo them after next year's election during a lame duck congressional session.
"Funny things can happen in a lame duck. It's different political environment," Certner says.
But getting agreement on undoing the cuts isn't any easier than finding the other budget deals that have proved elusive, Tanner says.
"The problem is we are deeply divided as a nation over the size of government, how to pay for government," Tanner says. "Until we argue that out at the ballot box, Congress is going to continue to reflect that divide."
Tamara Lytle is a freelance writer in the Washington, D.C., area who has covered government and politics for more than 20 years.