Failure by Congress' debt-cutting supercommittee to recommend $1.2 trillion in budget savings by Wednesday is supposed to automatically trigger spending cuts to accomplish the job.
Yet with the bipartisan debt panel increasingly unlikely to reach a deal, lawmakers who concocted the idea for the automatic cuts already are trying to figure out how to keep that budget axe from whacking their favorite programs.
The cuts would start in 2013 and be spread evenly over the next nine years, divided equally between defense and domestic programs. That's about $55 billion annually for each category.
President Barack Obama and Congress' leaders have said they'd oppose blocking the automatic cuts. But no one expects that to stop lawmakers from trying to defuse them, especially in the hothouse climate of next year's elections.