This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 22, 2011 - WASHINGTON - With the deficit "super committee" admitting defeat Monday, members of Congress played the blame game and maneuvered to anticipate the next moves in the efforts to reach a deal to reduce the federal budget deficit.
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., told reporters she would continue working "on a bipartisan basis" to try to reach a compromise, but she blamed Republicans for opposing any tax increases. And she vowed to oppose any move to defuse the deficit-deal "triggers" that would lead to automatic budget cuts in defense and other federal programs.
On the GOP side, U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, R-Wildwood, told the Beacon that he would help "lead the effort" in the House to protect the Pentagon from those automatic cuts -- an expected legislative effort that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he would oppose, and one that President Barack Obama threatened to veto.
While Akin and many other Republicans blamed Democrats for the super committee's failure for insisting on tax hikes that they worried would weaken the economy, Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, blamed GOP members for "refusing to compromise from their rigid position of protecting tax breaks for the very wealthy."
Despite this week's super committee setback, some lawmakers said the law's continued threat of $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts over a decade that would start in 2013 -- half of which would hit national security spending -- make it likely that some sort of a deficit agreement will be reached before then.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the Senate's second-ranking Democrat, said through a spokesman that he was disappointed in the committee's failure, but he "hopes that a bipartisan group of members can still reach an agreement on a multitrillion-dollar deal before the next round of deep spending cuts starts in January 2013."
Durbin, a member of the both the Bowles-Simpson Commission that issued a deficit plan last fall and the bipartisan "Gang of Six" that made a proposal last summer, believes that "the only way solve our fiscal problems is through a balanced approach that cuts spending and raises revenues," said the spokesman, Max Gleischman.
Another backer of the "Gang of Six" approach is Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., who tweeted that -- in the wake of the super committee's failure -- "Congress should appoint the bipartisan #GangofSix to finish their work."
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., issued a statement saying that he was disappointed that process failed," in part because the super committee "had a great opportunity to prioritize government spending through this process." He worried about the impact of the automatic cuts that would be triggered if the deficit law is not modified.
"Deficit reduction will happen," Blunt said, "but the worst way to cut spending is to enact broad, across-the-board cuts."
Committee Leaders Express Disappointment, Hope
The failure of the super committee -- officially, the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction -- came after more than three months of negotiations and hearings.
The 12-member panel's co-chairs, Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., released a joint statement late Monday afternoon saying they were "deeply disappointed that we have been unable to come to a bipartisan deficit reduction agreement" before the Wednesday deadline.
Even so, the two chairs said they had not lost hope that a deficit agreement eventually could be reached. "Despite our inability to bridge the committee's significant differences, we end this process united in our belief that the nation's fiscal crisis must be addressed and that we cannot leave it for the next generation to solve," they said.
"We remain hopeful that Congress can build on this committee's work and can find a way to tackle this issue in a way that works for the American people and our economy."
At a media event Monday at Boeing Corp.'s facility in Berkeley, McCaskill said she was "disappointed" by the super committee's failure to reach a deal. She joined a bipartisan group of lawmakers this month in urging the committee to "go big" by making some cuts to entitlement programs and finding ways to increase evenues. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Cape Girardeau, also backed the "go big" concept.
"I really think most Americans think cleaning up the tax code ... overall lowering the corporate rate and marginally, marginally increasing taxes slightly on those who have more than a $1 million in income -- I think if we can combine that with some entitlement reform that should be a compromise that is obtainable in Washington," McCaskill said.
She criticized Republicans who weren't willing to consider any tax increases -- even those on wealthy individuals -- as part of a deficit deal.
"But for the life of me, I just can't understand why the Republicans are refusing to consider a small tax increase for people on their second million dollars," McCaskill said. She added that removing the automatic cut "triggers" would showcase Congress' unwillingness to follow through with their own directives. "Last time I looked," she said, "all these people are who saying to reverse the automatic cuts were the ones who voted for it.... I do think we have to follow through with the cuts that would have to occur."
Akin told the Beacon that he had voted against the August deficit deal that set up the super committee because it was a flawed approach. "The idea of the super committee was a gimmick, and gimmicks don't work," he said. "It pretty much came out as a lot of people predicted" because "there is a widely divergent opinion as to what the federal government should be doing, and how it should be paid for."
Akin blamed Democrats for insisting on tax cuts that he believes would weaken the economy, and President Barack Obama for "steroid-level spending" on stimulus plans. "You just can't drive taxes beyond a certain level without crashing the economy, which already is in trouble," he said, calling for "a good balanced budget and a cap on federal spending."
Akin said "the public is going to have to become engaged" to solve the problem. "Do they want to come up with new taxing mechanisms, which I think will not work? Or are they going to push to reform government and demand that we live within our means."
Akin said that he and the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee planned to "lead the effort" in the House to defuse the triggers that would impose steep across-the-board cuts in defense, starting in 2013. "This would basically gut the budget of the Defense Department," he said, "and we can't let that happen."
At a news conference late Monday, Obama vowed to veto any effort to defuse the trigger.
"Already, some in Congress are trying to undo these automatic spending cuts," Obama said. "My message to them is simple: No. I will veto any effort to get rid of those automatic spending cuts to domestic and defense spending. There will be no easy off ramps on this one."
Obama explained: "We need to keep the pressure up to compromise -- not turn off the pressure. The only way these spending cuts will not take place is if Congress gets back to work and agrees on a balanced plan to reduce the deficit by at least $1.2 trillion."
The president expressed hope that a "balanced plan" for deficit reduction can be reached. "Although Congress has not come to an agreement yet, nothing prevents them from coming up with an agreement in the days ahead. They can still come together around a balanced plan."
Clay told the Beacon that he agreed with Obama that the triggers need to remain to put pressure on Republicans to come to the table and reach a long-term deficit deal. "The triggers are important and are part of the law we approved," Clay said. He suggested returning to the Bowles-Simpson proposals as the basis for new talks.
U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis, said he was disappointed in the outcome but hopeful that Congress might eventually find a compromise solution.
"I encourage all sides not to give up, to continue their work and come to an agreement so drastic cuts to vital defense and social programs, scheduled for January 2013, can be avoided," Carnahan said in a statement Monday.
"Though frustrating, this moment is an opportunity for members of Congress to show they get it - that they are willing to pull together for the economic health of the country," Carnahan said. "We need a balanced plan for both new revenue and necessary cuts, and we need it now. I stand ready to work with anyone, any time they decide they're ready to come to the table."
Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-St. Elizabeth, charged that the committee failed because some members "insisted on sweeping tax increases, even at a time when most economists believe that it would further weaken our struggling economy and contribute to higher unemployment, and even though spending -- not taxes -- is at the root of the problem. The bottom line is that our current level of spending is unsustainable, so there will be at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction one way or another."
Jason Rosenbaum contributed information to this article.