Charged with slashing the deficit by trillions, the new bipartisan commission could deadlock or reach a grand bargain. Is there a third option?
Speculation on a special deficit-reduction committee has focused on the prospect that members will either reach a so-called grand bargain or bog down in gridlock, but it is more likely they will do something in between.
Aides to panel members and other sources believe the members may well fall back on what could be dubbed a "not-so-grand" strategy. That would entail recommending deficit cuts identified in talks led by Vice President Joseph Biden as the base of a deal.
The recommended cuts might total less than the $1.2 trillion over 10 years in reductions the committee is being asked to achieve to avoid across-the-board cuts -- or sequestration -- of the same amount in 2013. But any panel-recommended cuts adopted by Congress will be subtracted from the total to be sequestered. By recommending, for example, $600 billion in spending cuts and reduced interest payments, the panel would halve the onerous amount required by the enforcement mechanism, or trigger, laid out in this month's legislation raising the federal debt ceiling and creating the new committee. Because half the sequestered funds under the bill would come from defense spending and entitlements would be mostly exempted, Republicans aides in particular cited the fallback option as a preferable outcome to sequestration. But Democrats, too, may see that approach as better than surrendering authority for major spending cuts to the executive branch.