Washington's partisan players might just avoid any further blow-up controversy, it seemed. The supercommittee appeared ready to quietly make tough compromises to meet its mandate; the loud politics of deficit and taxes, it appeared, would be muffled by the stuffiness of the Capitol.
By now, that quiet dream has faded. Higher entities have piled demands on the committee, making a low-key compromise impossible.
Just a few hours after the supercommittee's first meeting, President Obama appeared before Congress to introduce his new $447 billion jobs bill -- and asked the supercommittee to find the extra savings to pay for it.
"The agreement we passed in July will cut government spending by about $1 trillion over the next 10 years. It also charges this Congress to come up with an additional $1.5 trillion in savings by Christmas. Tonight, I am asking you to increase that amount so that it covers the full cost of the American Jobs Act," Obama said, also promising to offer his own jobs-bill offsets.
Rep. Jeb Hensarling (Texas), the supercommittee's Republican co-chair, responded with displeasure in a press release: "By asking the Joint Select Committee to increase the $1.5 trillion target to cover the full cost of his plan, the president is essentially tasking a committee designed to reduce the deficit to pay for yet another round of stimulus."
Last week, House Speaker John Boehner said the panel should include no tax increases in its final proposal. "When it comes to producing savings to reach its $1.5 trillion deficit reduction target, the Joint Select Committee has only one option: spending cuts and entitlement reform," he said in a speech to the Economic Club of Washington.
After those remarks, it appeared far less likely that the panel's House Republican appointees, two of counted as possible swing votes, would accept Democratic requests for tax increases as part of any "grand bargain" reminiscent of the debt-limit deal that fell apart in late July.
A day earlier, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), who does not sit on the supercommittee, asked the panel's members to have the Congressional Budget Office score each deficit proposal for its potential jobs impact. The AFL-CIO supports his request, which could slow down the panel's work.
And on Monday, President Obama laid out his deficit-reduction plan, asking the supercommittee to pass $1.5 trillion in tax hikes -- a plan that includes limiting deductions on incomes over $250,000, ending tax preferences for corporate jet owners, and closing corporate loopholes.
"Either we ask the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share in taxes, or we're going to have to ask seniors to pay more for Medicare. We can't afford to do both," Obama said. Republicans immediately criticized his plan.
The supercommittee was born out of Washington's inability to solve a partisan dispute over spending and revenue. At the time, it seemed a bit pathetic: Instead of making a decision, Obama and Congress imposed a deadline and a repercussion on a group of their colleagues. But this idea was also beautiful, in that it cooled the debate and buried it in Congress, where budget experts and their aides -- all better versed in these matters than Obama and Boehner -- could work out a consensus away from the heat of TV cameras.