‘Super committee’ teeters toward stalemate

It’s going to be a long weekend for certain members of Congress.

The bi-partisan 12-member “super committee,” tasked with finding $1.2 trillion in deficit reductions over the next decade, is, unsurprisingly, stuck doing what members of Congress normally do when forced to look across the aisle: pointing fingers at one another—as their Wednesday deadline draws nears, nonetheless.

CNN reports: “Six days before the deadline for a deal, House leaders on Thursday blamed each other's party for the inability of a special congressional committee to reach agreement on tax and entitlement reforms as part of a possible deficit reduction agreement.”

If the committee fails to come up with a proposal by Nov. 23—just the first step in this process, mind you—then $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts would be triggered across many federal agencies, beginning in 2013, with additional cuts to Medicare but not Medicaid.

The current impasse involves revenue—specifically, enough in increased taxes that everyone can agree with. The committee’s Republican’s have actually softened their earlier stance on absolutely no tax increases by offering a plan that would raise about $300 billion in taxes over 10 years. However, Democrats want more, while 72 House Republicans said they would not vote for a plan that includes any tax increases. (Remember, that’s phase two of this mess: If the committee can meet its Wednesday deadline, then all of Congress has to vote on the proposal by December 23.)

There may be, however, another option if the committee can’t reach an agreement. As Reuters reports:

A senior aide said some committee members were meeting just to discuss whether a broad deal is possible at this late hour.

If they conclude that it is not, talks may enter a new phase – one that takes taxes and benefit programs off the negotiating table and puts together a much smaller package containing measures both sides easily can agree upon.

These could include moves such as more aggressive government sales of the right to use radio and television frequencies and cutting federal pensions and some agriculture subsidies.

The goal would be to limit the severity of automatic spending cuts that would begin in 2013, with half hitting domestic programs and the other half hitting defense spending. If the panel comes up with a plan that does not reach $1.2 trillion, the automatic cuts would kick in for the remaining amount.

It will be interesting to see who folds in the days (and wee hours) before Thanksgiving, if a deal is even stuck at all.

Topics: Medicare/Medicaid