Deal or no deal?

Why the panel can't agree: bad dynamic

Published Nov 16, 2011 at 04:00AM

For two months now, 12 members of Congress have sat in a windowless room stocked with granola bars and high-quality coffee, trying to remember how Congress is supposed to work. So far, no luck. And time is running short.

The job of the congressional “supercommittee” — charged with cutting $1.2 trillion from the country's deficit — is to rekindle the possibility of the great big bipartisan deal, made by the big wheels in Congress.

But now, it seems, nobody is big enough.

One major reason for the committee's struggles is a structural change in Congress itself. Members are often strangers to each other, carrying little of the trust that made previous deals possible. And even the most powerful leaders are weaker than past bosses — uncertain their party will follow if they try to lead.

Now, the supercommittee only has one week left.

“The principals have to have trust in one another,” said Bob Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, who watched past budget deals come together. “They have to go into it with a willingness to compromise, and that means listening to each other's concerns and getting a feel of what is really non-negotiable.”

Not happening.

“That's clearly not the dynamic that we have going on right here,” Bixby said.

The larger truth is that the supercommittee is reflective of the entire Congress in that regard. Most legislation is an agglomeration of small compromises, between conservatives and liberals, House and Senate.

Republicans' last offer was to cut spending by about $750 billion over the next decade, while raising about $300 billion in new taxes. Democrats have offered a deal with much more tax increases — about $1 trillion — and about $1 trillion in spending cuts.

Each has pronounced the other's offer unacceptable.

New York Times News Service

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