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Capitol Hill was once again dominated this week by speculation about a deficit-reduction deal coming out of the so-called super committee. David Hawkings, editor of the CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing, talked with WAMU Morning Edition host Matt McCleskey about how close committee members are to reaching an agreement.
Signs of compromise?
The committee, which is charged with cutting at least 1.2 trillion out of the federal deficit, met publicly for the first time in more than a month Wednesday, and although lawmakers still seemed pretty far apart, Hawkings says he saw some signs of progress. "I saw signs yesterday in separate news conferences with both House Speaker John Boehner and minority leader Nancy Pelosi, that suggested they are at least willing to give it the old college try, says Hawkings.
For example, Boehner did not dismiss new tax revenue out of hand, and Pelosi "did not reject out of hand that there should be some limit in social security and Medicare benefits," Hawkings says.
Still, the question now really goes to whether the super committee will be able to find deficit cuts of closer to $3 trillion or more, says Hawkings, as this is what economists have said will need to happen to solve the deficit problem in the long term.
"If you're betting on this, probably still the solid betting odds is that in the end, the super committee will not be able to reach a deal that goes beyond the $1.2 trillion floor," says Hawkings.
McCain: 'We can reverse' automatic cuts
Not to give the impression that things are going too smoothly, however, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, ramped up the rhetoric on the super committee's work this week. He told reporters that he would not hesitate to reverse the entire deficit reduction bill to avoid the hefty automatic cuts to the defense program that would take effect if there was no deal.
We will be amongst the first on the floor to nullify this provision," McCain said. "Congress is not bound by this. It's something we passed; we can reverse it."
There are many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle that would likely not support changes to the original law, however, says Hawkings. Because the automatic cuts wouldn't go into effect until 2013, there would be time for Congress to try to tweak those cuts. "If the super committee comes to nothing this fall, they could theoretically wait until after the next election to vote on this," says Hawkings. "But I would think by then, the political pressure would be enormous to have some budget cutting."