By Larry Shaughnessy
Sequestration is like the weather in Washington - everybody talks about it, no one likes it, and no one knows what to do about it.
But the Senate has agreed to find out exactly how bad it - sequestration, that is - will be.
Sequestration is the name given the automatic across-the-board spending cuts mandated by Congress if planned budget cuts could not be agreed to.
Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, a vocal critic of sequestration, teamed with Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, to offer an amendment passed by the Senate Thursday examining what sequestration would really mean.
Department of Defense officials insist the military has not started planning for the cuts because, as Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has said, the Office of Management and Budget has told them not to. Still, from warnings of sequestration being like taking a "meat cleaver" to the budget, to dire predictions that it would "hollow out the force," the military has tried to warn the effect will be drastic.
The amendment calls on the Pentagon to report by August 15 on the impact of defense sequestration. It also calls on Office of Management and Budget to report within 30 days, and the president to report within 60 days, on the impact of all of sequestration, across both defense and non-defense spending.
"I think this is a strong sign that both sides understand the pain that sequestration would inflict, that both sides believe it is terrible way to cut spending. And my hope is that it will help show both sides that we can and must work together to get a balanced and bipartisan deal," Murray said Thursday morning.
But the amendment won't become law unless the House agrees to it, and if and when that might happen is unclear.
Meanwhile, the uncertainty created by the looming cuts is already making the unemployment problem even worse.
Boeing has cut some jobs because it doesn't know how further defense cuts might hurt its business.
"We don't get into specific numbers, but we've had employment reductions, we've had management reductions and we've had to make facilities decisions," said Chris Raymond, vice president at Boeing's defense, space and security division.
Lockheed Martin has said it has slowed down hiring for much the same reason.
"That, I think, should alarm the American people," McCain said Thursday.