Deficit-Cutting Supercommittee: 'We're Not There Yet'

The 12-member supercommittee charged with finding at least $1.2 trillion in budget cuts next month met publicly for the first time in six weeks Wednesday — and agreed on little more than the fact that time is indeed growing short for them to approve a deal. Co-chairman Patty Murray, D-Wash., said a lot of hard work has been done to find common ground and agree on a balanced, bipartisan plan for deficit reduction. But, she added, "We're not there yet."

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Here in Washington, D.C., more than a trillion dollars in automatic budget cuts will take effect if a congressional panel does not agree on at least that much in savings by Thanksgiving. The panel has six Democrats and six Republicans. And at a rare public meeting yesterday, their divisions became clear. NPR's David Welna has the story.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Supercommittee co-chairman Patty Murray opened yesterday's hearing with an update. The Democratic senator from Washington asserted a lot of hard work's been done to find common ground and agree on a balanced bipartisan plan for deficit reduction. But, she added, we're not there yet.

SENATOR PATTY MURRAY: Over the next few weeks it's going to be up to us to demonstrate to the American people that we can deliver the kind of results that they expect and that they deserve.

WELNA: One thing most panel members did seem to agree on is that the spending Congress normally has no say over - the 60 percent of the budget that's mandatory spending - should be a source of deficit reduction. Dave Camp is the Republican chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. He pointed out to Congressional Budget Office director Douglas Elmendorf, who was the hearing's only witness, that mandatory spending has soared in recent years.

REPRESENTATIVE DAVE CAMP: Doesn't this illustrate that as part of what we're trying to do, the need to rein in mandatory spending is obviously one of the priorities that we need to address?

DOUGLAS ELMENDORF: Again, it's up to the committee to choose what changes in policy it wants. But certainly the growth in mandatory spending, particularly for healthcare and also in Social Security, is the feature of the budget that makes the past unrepeatable.

WELNA: Democrats kept pressing their case for taxing the wealthy to cut deficits. House Democrat Xavier Becerra of California pointed to a study on income disparity just released by Elmendorf's office.

REPRESENTATIVE XAVIER BECERRA: You, I think, highlighted some pretty startling numbers about the disparity in income and wealth in America today.

ELMENDORF: So we've found, as other researchers have found, Congressman, very pronounced widening of the income distribution in this country, with reductions in the share of national income going to the bottom four quintiles over the 1979 to 2007 period, and a very large increase, roughly a doubling, in the share of national income going to the top one percent.

WELNA: Still, Republicans on the panel remain opposed to raising any taxes. And Democrats say more taxes must be part of any deal. So as the clock ticks down, the supercommittee's impasse continues. David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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