Supercommittee deadlocked over taxes and cuts

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The supercommittee is looking pretty ordinary these days.

After weeks of secret meetings, the 12-member deficit-cutting panel established under last summer’s budget and debt deal appears no closer to a breakthrough than when talks began last month.

While the panel members themselves aren’t doing much talking, other lawmakers, aides and lobbyists closely tracking the committee are increasingly skeptical, even pessimistic, that the panel will be able to meet its assigned task of at least $1.2 trillion in deficit savings over the next 10 years.

The reason? A familiar deadlock on taxes and cuts to major programs like Medicare and the Medicaid health care program for the poor and disabled.

Democrats won’t go for an agreement that doesn’t include lots of new tax revenue; Republicans are just as ardently anti-tax. The impasse on revenues means that Democrats won’t agree to cost curbs on popular entitlement programs like Medicare.

“Fairness has to be a prerequisite for it,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat. “We have just come through passing a bill that was [all spending] cuts, no revenue” -a reference to the August debt limit bill, which set tight “caps” on agency budgets but didn’t contain revenue increases pressed by Democrats.

Democrats are more insistent on revenues now.

Asked last week whether she is confident that the panel can hit its $1.2 trillion goal, co-chairman Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat, sidestepped the question.

“I am confident that the public is watching us very closely to see if we can show this country that this democracy can work,” Mrs. Murray told reporters. “I carry that weight on my shoulders every day and so does every member of this committee.”

The two parties have equal strength on the panel, which has until Thanksgiving to come up with a plan to submit for up-or-down House and Senate votes in December. That means bipartisan compromise is a prerequisite for a successful result.

Thus far, say aides to panel members and other lawmakers, neither side has demonstrated much flexibility in the super-secret talks.

The $1.2 trillion target evolved after efforts by President Obama and GOP House Speaker John A. Boehner to strike a so-called “grand bargain” on taxes and spending fell apart in July.

Numerous options have already been identified for cutting the deficit. They included requiring federal workers to contribute more to their retirement, cutting farm subsidies, auctioning broadcast spectrum and curbing payments to Medicare providers.

The supercommittee could scoop up these relatively easy-to-generate savings but still fall short of the $1.2 trillion target. Interest groups such as the powerful farm lobby might be willing to accept cuts when everybody else is getting hit, too, but are likely to fight back if they’re among the relative few getting singled out.

“Once you start taking things off the table or you pick a deal that only hits some parts of the budget, then you have some people who get hit who say, ‘Well, why me? Why not other people?’” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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