Deficit ‘Supercommittee’ Throws in the Towel

BY Terence Burlij  November 21, 2011 at 5:22 PM EST

The bipartisan co-chairs of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction announced late Monday that the group had failed to reach an agreement.

“We are deeply disappointed that we have been unable to come to a bipartisan deficit reduction agreement,” Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, said in a statement.

The so-called supercommittee, made up of six Democrats and six Republicans, had been charged with finding $1.2 trillion in deficit savings over the next decade, as part of an agreement reached in August to lift the country’s borrowing limit.

After a last-minute flurry of closed-door talks Monday on Capitol Hill, it appeared the two parties were unable to bridge their long-standing differences over spending and taxes. Democrats had wanted Republicans to put additional revenues on the table, while Republicans argued Democrats refused to move enough on entitlement spending.

“Despite our inability to bridge the committee’s significant differences, we end this process united in our belief that the nation’s fiscal crisis must be addressed and that we cannot leave it for the next generation to solve,” Murray and Hensarling said in their statement. “We remain hopeful that Congress can build on this committee’s work and can find a way to tackle this issue in a way that works for the American people and our economy.”

Reaction to the committee’s failure was quick — and finger-pointing seemed to be the name of the game for both parties.

“For the good of our country, Democrats were prepared to strike a grand bargain that would make painful cuts while asking millionaires to pay their fair share, and we put our willingness on paper. But Republicans never came close to meeting us halfway,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said in a statement.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., meanwhile, accused Democrats of standing in the way of a deal. “In the end, an agreement proved impossible not because Republicans were unwilling to compromise, but because Democrats would not accept any proposal that did not expand the size and scope of government or punish job creators,” McConnell said in a statement.

The lack of a deal will trigger $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts, spread equally across domestic and defense programs, beginning in 2013. Some lawmakers have suggested the defense reductions be turned off, but President Obama and congressional leaders from both parties have said they would not support such efforts.

The president reiterated his opposition to doing away with the sequester during an appearance in the White House briefing room late Monday.

“Already some in Congress are trying to undo these automatic spending cuts,” Mr. Obama said. “My message to them is simple: No. I will veto any effort to get rid of those automatic spending cuts to domestic and defense spending. There will be no easy off ramps on this one.”

With the cuts not scheduled to take effect until 2013, that gives lawmakers a full year to figure out which road they want to take.

On Friday’s NewsHour, Jeffrey Brown talked with Janet Hook of The Wall Street Journal about what would happen if the talks collapsed:

Watch Monday’s NewsHour for more reaction to the announcement.