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Election Politics Threatens to Derail Deficit Committee


Members of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction hold a public hearing with Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Elmendorf, seated at right, on Capitol Hill in Washington, October 26, 2011.

Members of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction hold a public hearing with Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Elmendorf, seated at right, on Capitol Hill in Washington, October 26, 2011.

In Washington, the congressional "supercommittee" appears on the verge of failure as it nears a Wednesday deadline to cut the country's $15-trillion debt by at least $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years. Failure to reach agreement could trigger automatic cuts by the same amount in domestic and defense spending over 10 years, beginning in 2013, which would have far-reaching political and economic impact.

Voters flood a congressional hearing room angered by the prospect of budget cuts to programs that benefit the elderly and poor.

Lawmakers are struggling to agree on a mix of spending cuts and tax increases to cut the deficit, and failure could have worldwide implications, said Democratic Senator Kent Conrad.

“The world is watching. We know that the economic future of our country and the world rests on decisions that will be made in the next few days,” said Conrad.

Art of compromise?

University student Taylor Nash said it is time for Congress to compromise. “Right now the ideological stances on both the left and right seem to hamper their ability to come together and make decisions for the country as a whole. It’s more of a party war,” said Nash.

What if the supercommittee fails?



  • - $1.2 billion in cuts split equally between defense and non-defense spending are triggered.

  • - Estimated at $55 billion in each type of spending per year from 2013 through 2021.

  • - Social Security, Medicare, and other programs exempt from cuts.

  • - U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warns cuts could leave U.S. military with its smallest ground force since 1940s.

  • -The automatic spending reductions are known as "sequestration."

He is not alone, said Diane Lim Rogers of the centrist Concord Coalition. “Most Americans look at Congress and they say, ‘Hey, just work it out’. It is not impossible to work this out. You just have to let go of your very ideological positions that you have held onto for the past decade,” said Rogers.

But deep disagreements over raising taxes and cutting spending have hamstrung the supercommittee, said political analyst Stuart Rothenberg.

Basic difference of opinion

“I think people would like the supercommittee to work. The problem is the same problem we have had for many months in that there is a fundamental disagreement between Republicans and Democrats, and conservatives and liberals as to who pays the price,” said Rothenberg.

Rothenberg said compromise is difficult because lawmakers are most worried about next year’s election.

“If Republicans vote to increase some taxes and their conservative wing gets angry at that, they could have a bloodbath. And if Democrats say we will make significant cuts in Social Security and Medicare, then the liberal wing of the Democratic Party will absolutely start screaming,” said Rothenberg.

Rothenberg and other analysts say lawmakers do have one major incentive to act. A recent public opinion poll found only 9 percent of Americans approve of Congress, an all-time low.

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    Jim Malone

    Jim Malone has served as VOA’s National correspondent covering U.S. elections and politics since 1995. Prior to that he was a VOA congressional correspondent and served as VOA’s East Africa Correspondent from 1986 to 1990. Jim began his VOA career with the English to Africa Service in 1983.

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