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Reversing the Trigger Moving Forward Faster than Any Bipartisan Deficit Deal

You will be stunned to know that Democrats and Republicans are having trouble reaching consensus with less than three weeks to go until the Super Committee needs to make recommendations on deficit reduction.

Washington’s latest exercise in debt reduction appeared to be at an impasse Thursday, as members of a special congressional committee barreled toward a Thanksgiving deadline with no movement on the fundamental question of whether to raise taxes.

Talks continued between congressional leaders and members of the supercommittee, but the panel had no further meetings scheduled and no path to compromise on a plan to slice at least $1.2 trillion from projected borrowing over the next decade.

Aides in both parties said the prospects for a bigger deal were fading rapidly, and that the panel committee could be left struggling just to meet its minimum target.

“In a word, it’s stolid. Not stalled, but stolid,” said supercommittee member Max Baucus (D-MT), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, suggesting that talks had slowed to a crawl.

The fact that John Boehner cracked the door open on revenues suggests that the plan is truly dead, actually. If there actually was a serious grand bargain in the works, you can bet Boehner wouldn’t be saying a word about it. And anyway, if you read the full comments, he wants revenues to come from a sweeping tax reform that lowers rates, and we know that’s not going to come out of a 12-member committee in three weeks. The Republican offer in the committee had practically no revenue increases and $2.2 trillion in spending cuts.

Just to show you how unserious Congress is about deficit reduction (which shouldn’t really bother anyone, but should highlight the hypocrisy), there is more cooperation over ditching the deficit trigger than coming to a deal that avoids it.

A growing number of lawmakers are already talking about reversing the automatic spending cuts to defense and domestic programs that would go into effect if the supercommittee doesn’t find at least $1.2 trillion in deficit cuts by Nov. 23.

Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) confirmed Thursday that they’re working on “alternative” legislation that would scale back the size of cuts that can be made to the Pentagon. On the other side of the political spectrum, liberals are talking about rolling back automatic cuts to domestic programs.

Officially, the leadership of both parties are saying they will abide by the trigger. But they will have to spend a year fending off their rank and file, and that’s just not credible. You can see the outlines of a deal here. One side agrees to give up on the defense side of the trigger, and the other side gives up on the social spending cuts. And poof, the trigger is gone.

And everyone will congratulate one another on their seriousness.

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David Dayen

David Dayen