'Super Committee' Admits Defeat - What Now?

Last week, the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction – the so-called super committee – announced its failure to reach a compromise on a combination of revenue enhancements and spending cuts designed to reduce the federal deficit by $1.2 trillion over a 10-year span.

The panel had until Nov. 23 to come up with a plan. Having failed to reach an agreement, a process called sequestration will go into effect Jan. 1, 2013.

The committee did not face an all-or-nothing mandate. It could have agreed to less than $1.2 trillion and allowed sequestration to handle the rest. Instead, the committee agreed to disagree on everything.

Under the sequestration, 18 percent of the automatic savings are presumed to come from interest costs the government would save from reducing the national debt. So, $216 billion of the $1.2 trillion gap would be covered by assumed interest savings.

The remaining $984 billion will have to come from automatic spending cuts, divided equally between defense spending and domestic programs. The Congressional Budget Office estimates an automatic 10 percent reduction in the Pentagon budget.

On the domestic side, Social Security, Medicaid and many veterans' benefits and low-income programs are exempt from the cuts. Medicare is limited to a 2 percent reduction. That leaves education, agriculture and environmental programs exposed to cuts of around 8 percent, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

More than a year – and the 2012 election – remains before sequestration takes effect. Of course, Congress created sequestration and can make changes before it takes effect. But President Obama has threatened to veto any effort to avoid facing up to the budget deficit.

Given the ongoing level of political bickering, it may be that both parties will try to wait until after the election – when each party thinks its position will be strengthened – before engaging in serious negotiations.

 
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