Congress Contemplates Next Steps in Aftermath of Supercommittee Failure

by Rebecca Farley on December 1, 2011

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor

As Congress returned from its Thanksgiving recess, lawmakers this week grappled with their next steps in the wake of the Supercommittee’s failure to reach an agreement on a $1.2 trillion deficit reduction plan. Most of these efforts have centered on minimizing the impact of automatic, across-the-board spending cuts that were triggered when the Supercommittee could not produce a plan. These cuts will go into effect in 2013 and will fall equally on defense and non-defense spending. Many important social safety net programs – for example, Medicaid and SSI – are exempted from the cuts.

Reports indicate that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) is working to build support for a new proposal that would reduce the impact of the automatic defense cuts by pairing a delay their implementation with a variety of measures that are widely considered to be “must-pass” legislation. Cantor’s plan would include $133 billion in spending cuts, a 1-year delay in the defense sequestration, a 1-year extension of unemployment benefits, a payroll tax break, and a “fix” for the scheduled reduction in Medicare physician payment rates. However, President Obama has threatened to veto any legislation that modifies the automatic cuts, and it is far from clear whether a majority of legislators would support such a bill.

Meanwhile, discussions continue among other legislators about how to reduce the deficit in the aftermath of the Supercommittee’s failure. A bipartisan, bicameral group fashioning itself as the “go big coalition” is holding meetings behind closed doors to discuss a $4-6 trillion deficit reduction plan. In addition, Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) has suggested that he may try to replace some of the automatic defense cuts with a deficit reduction plan to be included in his outline for the 2013 budget. (With fiscal year 2012 already two months old, Congress and the White House have begun working on their budget proposals for FY 2013). Such a move could be largely symbolic, as election-year politics make it unlikely the Democratic-controlled Senate and the Republican-controlled House will reach an agreement on the same budget resolution. It is not uncommon for the two chambers to work from separate budget resolutions, smoothing out differences during their later-stage negotiations.

(Image via Harry Hamburg / AP)


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