Congressional lawmakers could not negotiate a last-minute agreement to reduce the federal deficit.
The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, or super committee, tasked with finding $1.2 trillion in cuts in government spending, has been a super failure. President Obama placed the blame for the failure squarely at the feet of Republican lawmakers.
“They continue to insist on protecting $100 billion worth of tax cuts for the wealthiest two percent of Americans at any cost, even if it means reducing the deficit with deep cuts to things like education and medical research, even if it means deep cuts in Medicare,” Obama said at a news conference Monday evening. “So at this point at least, they simply will not budge from that negotiating position and so far that refusal continues to be the main stumbling block that is preventing Congress from reaching an agreement to further reduce our deficit.”
After spending much of the day working to negotiate a last-minute deal, the bipartisan panel's co-chairs, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Washington) and Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), issued a statement late Monday that its members were unable to "bridge the committee's significant differences." The failure will trigger automatic cuts will to defense and nondiscretionary domestic programs, which many experts predict wiill hurt.
Obama said that the committee’s failure does not create the dire situation that would have occurred if lawmakers had failed to raise the nation’s debt ceiling last summer. But he called on Congress to continue working to reach an agreement to reduce the deficit in ways that would help the economy grow. He also vowed to veto any effort to get rid of the automatic spending cuts, warning that “there will be “no easy off-ramps on this one” and that the pressure of those automatic cuts looming over their heads is needed to push lawmakers toward compromise.
House Democratic Assistant Leader James Clyburn, the panel's sole African-American member, said in a statement that he will continue to work with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to develop a plan that will "make smart cuts in unnecessary spending, raise revenue by making the tax code fairer and create jobs." He also said those goals must be achieved while at the same time protecting the nation's most vulnerable.
Most of the automatic cuts wouldn’t go into effect until 2013, but some pain will be felt more immediately by millions of African-Americans and others who continue to struggle in a weakened economy. The committee’s proposal was supposed to extend the payroll tax holiday, as well as unemployment benefits for the long-term uninsured set to expire at the end of the year. If those programs are not extended, six million people will lose their benefits next year, starting with 1.8 million within a month. That could also have an adverse impact on local economies because people spend their benefits right away.
In addition, those lucky enough to be employed will pay higher payroll taxes, starting Jan. 2, and the average biweekly paycheck would shrink by about $35, according to an analysis by the Tax Policy Center.
“African-Americans should be concerned about all of the cuts because almost without a doubt they impact programs that help our communities on a daily basis,” said Rep. Karen Bass (D-California). “When it comes to discretionary cuts, if the automatic cuts go through, that will have a devastating impact on our communities.”
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Missouri), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, also fears that not all cuts will be equal and that preference will be given to defense programs, leaving the “have-nots” to fend for themselves, he told BET.com.
The impasse once again demonstrates to American voters and the world that Republicans and Democrats are unable to work together to solve the nation’s mounting debt. As with the debates to raise the debt ceiling, disagreement has centered on whether or not to raise taxes on the nation’s top earners, which Republicans opposed. GOP lawmakers also were adamant about making cuts in entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, which Democrats were willing to consider, but only in return for the tax hikes.
"There is one sticking divide. And that's the issue of what I call shared sacrifice," Murray said Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union. "The wealthiest Americans who earn over a million a year have to share too. And that line in the sand, we haven't seen Republicans willing to cross yet."
Hensarling said on Fox News Sunday that he was open to some revenue increases.
“I’m not trying to tax the wealthy into oblivion,” he said. “I’d like to take away the bailouts. I’d like to take away the subsidies. I’d like to take away the special interest deductions, but most importantly I want to create jobs for the American people.”
(Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)