Supercommittee Deal Prospects Appear To Fade

The bipartisan supercommittee enters the final weekend prior to its Nov. 23 deadline with little tangible progress to show for over two months of work. NPR's Andrea Seabrook tells guest host Linda Wertheimer that several of its members are huddling in Washington this weekend, trying to come up with a way to reduce the government's budget deficit.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer in for Scott Simon. We're down to the final few days before the congressional supercommittee hits its deadline. Several of its members are huddling in Washington this weekend to try to come up with a way to reduce the government's budget deficit - a deal that at least seven of the 12 committee members might vote for. NPR congressional correspondent Andrea Seabrook is following the supercommittee. She joins us now. Andrea, good morning.

ANDREA SEABROOK, BYLINE: Good morning, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: I understand that the committee is stuck. Is there any hope of reaching a deal?

SEABROOK: Well, think there is a little bit of hope left, but it is fading fast. There's some last ideas being kicked around. For example, the Republicans have offered to the Democrats that about half of the amount that the supercommittee is about to cut, and that would be subtracted from the amount of automatic cuts that would go into effect a year from now. In other words, sequestrations. So, there are some last ideas being kicked around, but most people are saying they're stuck in the same place that they've been all along.

WERTHEIMER: Now, a few days ago, Republicans seemed to be signaling that they'd accept some amount of increased tax revenue in order to make the deal. What happened to that?

SEABROOK: Yeah, it seemed as if the log jam was breaking up. The Republicans were saying they would accept some increase in tax revenue. The Democrats seemed to be interested in that. And that has been what they've asked for all along. We'll make big, deep cuts if you agree to some increase in tax revenue. But what we've lost in all of that was the actual offer that the Republicans made, and that was: we will agree to increased tax revenue if you, Democrats, agree to enshrining in law the Bush-era tax cuts that were made in '01 and '03 - all of them. Democrats saw that as being a kind of a raw deal, and they see themselves as being better off just allowing the automatic cuts to go into effect a year from now and not enshrining into law those Bush-era tax cuts.

WERTHEIMER: So, walk us through what happens next if they don't reach a deal.

SEABROOK: What is so-called sequestration, is supposed to kick in. In other words, automatic budget cuts, if the supercommittee doesn't reach a deal. Those budget cuts, though, are only supposed to go into effect a year from now, in fiscal year 2013. What that means is it gives lawmakers an entire year to figure out how to either direct those automatic cuts, or avoid them altogether, which is a real and distinct possibility. And let me point out, though, too; in that year, there is an election.

WERTHEIMER: Andrea, do you think that the lawmakers are concerned about consequences, about how voters or financial markets might react if they completely fail?

SEABROOK: Yes, they are concerned with that. That said, it seems like the markets are just as happy with the automatic budget cuts that would go into effect a year from now, as they would be with any agreement that lawmakers make. So that's not really the question anymore. In terms of politically, you know, Americans have an approval rating of Congress right now by recent polls of 9 percent. And so, lawmakers don't look good to them already. And not reaching a deal may confirm voters ideas about what happened. But, you know, lawmakers could just figure out a way to save face over the next year before the election comes, or even avoid the automatic budget cuts that would happen a year from now in the first place.

WERTHEIMER: And how could they do that, avoid the consequences that they set up for themselves?

SEABROOK: Yes, well that's the rub. They set up the consequences for themselves. And so, if they find a political agreement, they could just rewrite the rules. Or, they could target the sequestration, the automatic budget cuts towards different things. Right now it's heavily weighted towards the military and entitlement programs. The question is, how will voters react to that, if they see Congress as really not being able to even follow their own roadmap toward compromise?

WERTHEIMER: Andrea Seabrook, NPR's congressional correspondent. Thank you very much, Andrea.

SEABROOK: Thanks, Linda.

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