Imagine a genie which randomly imposes across-the-board budget cuts unless Congress votes to stop them before they happen.  This would be a good genie.

Its easy to blame the other side for not coming to an agreement.  The genie’s cuts will happen because both sides will blame the other for not reaching an agreement to stop them.  This is different than proposing and approving of cuts yourself because you would get the blame for that.

And of course a random genie is blameless.

It’s not a first-best genie.  The cuts are random and across the board.  But because of the asymmetry of blame they wouldn’t happen otherwise.

Sadly its not even a real genie so the cuts never happen.  But Congress and President Obama have now learned how to replicate the genie:  impose the cuts on a future congress.  From the point of view of the future congress the previous congress is essentially a random genie.

The previous congress, not being an actual genie, nevertheless avoids blame because everyone expects the next Congress to do the sane thing and replace the sequester with something sensible.

All we can hope now is that the current Congress looks at this sequester “debacle” and concludes that in order to make it work as intended the next time the threatened cuts have to be even bigger.