US debt ‘supercommittee’ faces crunch time

US Congress “supercommittee,” pictured in September,
has less than two weeks to reach a massive budget deal
© AFP/Getty Images/File Alex Wong


WASHINGTON (AFP) – Spurred on by President Barack Obama, a US Congress “supercommittee” faced gloomy prospects Monday of reaching a deal to rein in the country’s galloping deficit just 10 days before a key deadline.

The 12-member panel, polarized by partisan politics, must find $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years by November 23 or face triggering draconian cuts to the US social safety net and military spending to make up that amount.

Obama, who has laid out a plan that blends tax increases and cuts in outlays to reach $3 trillion in reductions, pressed lawmakers on Sunday to “bite the bullet and do what needs to be done — because the math won’t change.”

“There’s no magic formula. There are no magic beans that you can toss on the ground and suddenly a bunch of money grows on trees. We’ve got to just go ahead and do the responsible thing,” he said at an Asia-Pacific summit in Hawaii.


The committee, created in an August deal on raising the US debt limit, has locked up over Republican refusals of Democratic calls to raise taxes on the very wealthy in return for cuts to cherished social safety net programs.

Democrats have reportedly offered reductions in so-called “entitlement” health care programs for the poor and elderly as well as the Social Security pension plan dear to their core voters but insisted the rich must pay more.

Republicans have warned that will cripple job-creating investment at a time when the brittle US economy labors under stubbornly high unemployment of more than nine percent.

And they have reportedly countered with cuts to the safety net while pushing tax changes they say will raise $250 billion over 10 years while seeing rates on the wealthiest earners drop — a move Democrats have rejected.

“They’ve had a lot of conversations, but it feels as if people continue to try to stick with their rigid positions rather than solve the problem,” Obama said at a Sunday press conference.

“It’s at a difficult point. I think we’ve got a ways to go. But I hope we can close that gap very quickly,” Republican Senator Pat Toomey, a member of the panel, told Fox News Channel.

“We’ve got 10 days to do this, and I really believe that all of the ingredients for a good resolution are there. We just need to build the will,” said another member, Democratic Representative Jim Clyburn.

Any deal would require majority approval on the committee, which is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, and would enjoy fast-track consideration by the whole Congress, with no amendments possible.

In a clever bit of Washington self-awareness, the panel must by law deliver its recommendations to the Democratic-held Senate and Republican-led House of Representatives by November 23, the eve of the cherished Thanksgiving holiday.

Then the polarized congress has until December 23, just two days before Christmas, to approve the package or trigger the automatic cuts, effectively leveraging lawmakers’ attachment to the two hugely popular holidays.

The possible cuts — which would take effect in January 2013 — after the November 2012 elections in which Obama seeks a new term — were designed as being so painful to both sides as to compel a compromise.

Republicans have waged an all-out war against the Pentagon cuts, and the divided Congress could in theory agree to alter the underlying law to change the reductions, the deadlines, or both.

“This doesn’t require radical changes to America or its way of life,” said Obama, who pressed the committee leaders Friday to reach a deal. “It just means that we spread out the sacrifice across every sector so that it’s fair.”

© AFP — Published at Activist Post with license

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