• The sequester would hit defense and non-defense spending in equal dollar amounts. The non-defense category is comprised primarily of non-defense discretionary, a limited amount of Medicare and some mandatory spending. To the extent that the Joint Committee succeeds in enacting any savings, these would reduce — or entirely obviate — the sequester.

Practical considerations

• The maximum the debt ceiling can be raised is $2.4 trillion (if the Committee has enacted at least $1.5 trillion in savings or if a BBA has been sent to the states). The minimum the debt ceiling can be raised is $2.1 trillion (if the Joint Committee fails to meet its target). In both circumstances, there would be dollar for dollar cuts coupled with the debt ceiling increase.

• The trigger does not allow for increased revenues. The trigger can only result in spending cuts through caps and sequesters, not tax increases.

• The sequester is designed to dig deep enough into programs cherished by both parties that the Joint Committee would have a significant incentive to succeed.

• Because of CBO scoring conventions, the Committee would not be able to achieve deficit reduction through individual rate increases.

• If the Committee fails, then the total debt limit increase is capped at $2.1 trillion, which raises the prospect of having to raise it again before the election (depending on the health of the economy).

• As a practical matter, if the full amount of the sequester were to be triggered, it would force a debate on what spending cuts could replace amounts being proposed to be sequestered. This debate would occur annually for the next nine years and keep the focus on the issue of spending well past the next election.

Process & timeline of the joint committee

• 14 Days after Enactment (around Aug. 16, 2011): Joint Commission members are appointed; House/Senate Co-Chairs picked.

• 45 calendar days after bill passes (around Sept. 20): First Joint Commission meeting.

• Oct. 14, 2011: Each Senate & House committee may send Joint Committee recommendations for changes to reduce deficit by at least $1.5 trillion.

• Nov. 23, 2011: Joint Commission votes on: Report containing a detailed statement of the findings, conclusions, and recommendations and the estimate of CBO; Proposed legislative language.

• Dec. 2, 2011: If approved, the Joint Committee submits the report and legislative language to the president, the vice-president, and the House/Senate; Next legislative day — Joint Committee's legislative language is introduced in Senate and the House.

• Dec. 9, 2011: Any House and Senate Committee to which the Joint Committee language is referred to must report it to the House and Senate without amendment. If Committees fail to report by this day, it will be automatically discharged to the House and Senate. In the Senate, the motion to proceed is not debatable. Consideration and debate are limited to 30 hours. No amendments are in order.

• Not later than Dec. 23, 2011: Vote on Joint Committee bill in both House and Senate.

• Jan. 31, 2012: Joint Committee terminates.