After Super Failure, a Super Fight

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With the deficit panel coming up short, the parties are gearing up for renewed debates over spending and tax issues

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Already referring to failure as a fait accompli, supercommittee members and aides are turning their attention to the immediate and nasty fights expected to result.

"When failure's announced, it's going to be off to the races," a senior Democratic aide familiar with talks said Sunday.

In appearances on Sunday shows, committee members offered little hope for a last-minute deal. Immediately, the panel's inability to cut a deal would force congressional attention to year-end fights members hoped the committee would resolve: preventing the alternative minimum tax from hitting swaths of middle class Americans; protecting physicians who accept Medicare patients from losing fees; and extending a payroll tax cut for employees and unemployment benefits. Members of the supercommittee are expected to announce on Monday that they've been unable to agree on a deal.

Moving into 2012, Republicans will immediately begin attempts to alter the Budget Control Act's requirement that half of $1.2 trillion in cuts over a decade triggered by supercommittee failure hit defense spending. Democrats say they will block that effort unless the GOP allows Bush administration tax cuts to expire for top income earners.

"We have a year to avoid sequestration and also to deal with extension of payroll tax cuts and the doc fix on Medicare -- and every time the issue [will] be the same: their refusal to raise any taxes on wealthy to pay for things the country wants by huge proportions," the Democratic aide said. "Pressure's gonna keep building."

Failure by the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction to cut a deal will throw the issues it was charged with resolving, and others members hoped it would address, back to the full Congress, which is largely paralyzed by dueling control of the chambers and positioning for the 2012 election. The panacea that creators hoped would result from the panel's extraordinary power to recommend legislation that would get fast-track consideration, and pressure on its members, has not materialized. The supercommittee, as critics noted from its creation, faces the same crippling political pressures that incapacitate Congress.

The fallout will not only be between parties. Republicans were divided over offers by GOP committee members to eliminate some tax deductions. Republicans are also at odds over how aggressively to attempt to "turn-off" sequestration, according to GOP aides. Some members worry the threat to undo the automated cuts will threaten the government's bond rating.

Supercommittee failure will revive efforts by advocates of a "big" deficit reduction plan worth about $4 trillion in deficit reductions over a decade. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) a founding member of the so-called Gang of Six senators, wants the draft framework that group outlined this summer to receive a vote if the supercommittee offers no plan. That push earns scorn from some Democratic committee members and leadership offices. Senior staffers to committee members routinely note the gang never agreed on a plan that could be scored or written into legislative language.

The gang will face pressure "to put their high-fallutin' self-righteous 'principles' into legislative form which they haven't been able to thus far," the Democratic aide said.

Image credit: J. Scott Applewhite/AP

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Dan Friedman & Reid Wilson

Dan Friedman is a staff writer (Senate leadership) for National Journal. Reid Wilson is editor-in-chief of National Journal Hotline.

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