Not so super committee

John Dimsdale Nov 14, 2011

Kai Ryssdal: There’s a mere nine days left until the super committee’s supposed to come up with a deficit deal — $1.2 trillion dollars in budget savings, as you’ve heard. If they pace themselves, that’s just $133 billion a day they’ve got to come up with between now and Thanksgiving.

But if you’ve perused the headlines today, you know there’s new talk of maybe not getting it done. Of delaying a deal on new taxes, leaving them ’til next year and a new Congress — and possibly a new president — that could possibly reverse automatic cuts even before they happen.

Which raises the distinct possibility we’ve all just been spinning our wheels. Marketplace’s John Dimsdale reports from Washington.

John Dimsdale: As the prospects for a super agreement grow dim, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, California Republican Howard McKeon, says a $600 billion reduction in defense is unacceptable.

Howard McKeon: To date, defense has contributed more than half of the deficit reduction measures we’ve taken and there are some who want to use the military to pay for the rest to protect the sacred cow that is entitlement spending.

And defenders of entitlement programs say cuts in food stamps and Medicare are equally unacceptable. With both sides hesitating, some lawmakers are considering an out. They know the mandated cuts don’t take effect until January 2013 — after the next election.

Andy Laperriere at ISI Group says at that point, Congress and the president could forego the trigger.

Andy Laperriere: I think when we get to 2013, we’ll be looking at taking another run at a big deficit reduction package.

President Obama warns he won’t support any changes, but he may no longer be president when the cuts take effect. Laperriere says not pulling the trigger means the whole super committee exercise is just lost time with financial consequences.

Laperriere: At that point, Moody’s and S&P have said they would downgrade U.S. debt without a major fiscal consolidation package and I think there’s a very good chance investors will lose faith in the U.S. if there’s not a big package in 2013.

The lack of a genuine threat of automatic spending cuts saps much of the super committee’s powers. The question is whether the credit rating agencies can offer committee members a lead box to keep the kryptonite contained.

In Washington, I’m John Dimsdale for Marketplace.

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