Tuesday, November 22, 2011

As Blame Game Erupts, Debt Panel Appears Ready to Admit Failure

As Blame Game Erupts, Debt Panel Appears Ready to Admit Failure

The panel is sputtering to a close after two months of talks in which the members were never able to get close to bridging a fundamental divide over how much to raise taxes to address a budget deficit that forced the government to borrow 36 cents of every dollar it spent last year.
Republicans and Democrats on the committee can't agree on much. But as the deficit-cutting panel careens toward a Wednesday deadline without a deficit-cutting deal, they can agree on this -- it's all the other side's fault.

In separate interviews across Washington Sunday, members of the committee charged with finding at least $1.2 trillion in savings hurled recriminations at one another for their apparent failure to strike an agreement. Sources close to the discussions indicate that, despite scattered last-ditch appeals for a deal, members of the panel are trying to figure out how to bring the process formally to a close.

The ignominious end for the committee once touted as a must-succeed effort to rein in the debt tees up what is sure to be a protracted blame game.

Republicans said Sunday they offered Democrats a "breakthrough" deal by putting tax hikes on the table, but that Democrats never got serious about curbing entitlements while insisting on "huge" tax increases instead.

Democrats said they put every one of their "sacred cows" on the chopping block, but that Republicans tried to exploit the process to extend, even lower, the tax rates set during the George W. Bush administration.

"We are not a tax-cutting committee. We're a deficit-reduction committee," Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said.

The panel was established over the summer as a condition for raising the debt ceiling.
As analysts warn about the economic implications of failure, as well as the political punishment members of Congress could endure at the hands of frustrated voters, lawmakers worked to explain away the impasse as the proverbial sand slipped through the hourglass. The committee technically has until Wednesday to reach a deal, but officials have said Monday -- or even Sunday night -- is the de facto deadline, because budget scorekeepers would need time to review the package.

A visibly riled-up Kerry dismissed GOP accusations as "nonsense" Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press."

"If this weren't so serious, I might laugh," Kerry said, warning about the "real threat" of a credit downgrade and financial market revolt.
"Just the confusion and gridlock is enough to say to the world, 'America can't get its act together,'" Kerry said.

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