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Editorial: On to the next budget battle

The congressional deficit-reduction supercommittee was not necessarily destined to fail, but it was always a long shot at best.
Its dozen members conceded Monday what the Associated Press termed ěignominious defeat,î but a failure to work miracles is hardly ignominious. And a miracle is what the panel would have needed in agreeing on $1.2 trillion in budget cuts over a decade.
Congressional and presidential commissions, task forces and panels work best when there is broad agreement on the goals and the means to get there. These groups also give lawmakers political cover for courses of action that may prove temporarily unpopular.
The two sides on the supercommittee agreed on the goal of bringing a national debt that has reached $15 trillion under control. There was no agreement on means. The Democrats want to reach it mainly by raising revenues, taxes, if you will; the Republicans want to do so by major cuts in federal spending.
There were some credible efforts at compromise by various panel members, but they were shot down, often by the leaders of their own parties. Co-chair Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said efforts would continue even after Wednesdayís official deadline, but itís difficult to envision a scenario for success.
What is sometimes dismissed as partisan bickering is, in fact, deep philosophical division. But for fans of largely political posturing, there is plenty of grandstanding to come. Next month, Congress must decide whether to extend President Barack Obamaís temporary 2 percent cut in the payroll tax, whether to renew his extended unemployment benefits and somehow reverse a planned 27 percent cut in payments to doctors treating Medicare patients. And, let us not forget, only one of the 12 spending bills for government operations that were supposed to have been finished by Sept. 30 has been passed and signed by the president. Seven other bills are mostly done; and on four measures only one house has acted.
Congress rarely hangs around much in January, but in February Obama sends his fiscal 2013 budget to the Hill. Meanwhile, the House and Senate are supposed to come up with their own budgets. The House will; the Senate, again, may not get around to it.
If Congress can’t agree on $1.2 trillion in tax hikes and spending cuts, those cuts go into effect automatically across-the-board in January 2013. Congressional Republicans, who got themselves into this trap, hope to avoid those cuts, especially in defense. Those cuts will be deeply unpopular with the public, but Obama says he will veto any attempts by the Republicans to get around them. ěThere will be no easy off-ramps on this one,î he said.
If so, there will be a pretty spectacular collision that may make the country yearn for the days of endless bickering.
ó Scripps Howard News Service

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