Deficit-Reduction Panel Plays 'Blame Game'

Monday is the deadline for the supercommittee to announce its deficit-reduction plan. But it's widely expected the bipartisan panel will admit it has failed. Each side is blaming the other for not budging on obstacles to an agreement.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

For more on why the work for the supercommittee has been so difficult, let's turn to NPR's Cokie Roberts. She's with us this morning, as she is most Mondays. Good morning, Cokie.

COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Hi, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: We just heard Senator Patty Murray talking about lawmakers being committed to a lobbyist rather than to the people. Sounds like Democratic talking points, no?

ROBERTS: Yes, indeed, and that's what the Democrats are doing. They're going after the Republicans, saying that they're the tools of Grover Norquist who they're characterizing as a millionaire lobbyist. And Mr. Norquist, who has exacted this tax pledge - no new tax pledge from the Republicans - is not doing anything to dispel that because, of course, it makes him seem very powerful, so he likes that.

The Republicans, on the other hand, are saying that it's all the president's fault, that he was AWOL throughout these supercommittee deliberations and Mitt Romney particularly made that case throughout the day yesterday. But it is all political talking points as opposed to anybody really trying to get something done. There were none of those late night huddles in the Capitol yesterday that, you know, you and I have stood outside those rooms waiting for people to come out with some announcement. None of that was going on. It was all just blame game.

WERTHEIMER: So what, in reality, is likely to be the effect of the supercommittee's failure, if a failure is what we're looking at?

ROBERTS: Well, on the markets, we'll see. The principals on the committees seem to think that the markets have already factored in failure of the supercommittee, and that there will be no big blowback. And they keep making the point that there will be these $1.2 trillion in cuts, anyway, and that that's what will have the effect on the markets, so no one should panic.

It's interesting to me that it's the Republicans who are the ones making this point most strongly, so clearly, they are feeling some of the heat.

WERTHEIMER: Now aside from the politics, what is the likely substantive result? Will there be any real deficit reduction? Will the across the board reduction that's supposed to happen if the supercommittee fails, will that actually happen?

ROBERTS: Well, first of all, the cuts are not even supposed to happen until 2013. Now, you know very well what happens when we get into the normal appropriations process. Once the supercommittee disbands, none of the special expedited procedures exist anymore. So we're back to a Senate that can filibuster, a House that can figure out ways to spend money when people aren't looking.

So it is very, very hard to see – look into the future and see that those cuts will really happen. And there are all kinds of other things to factor in there: the extension of the payroll tax break, unemployment benefits, all of that will be something on the table.

And, you know, so the big hope is that the economy grows and those things will be essential to that, and that the country is home free. But it's hard to see our way from here to there, and of course there's also that big question of the Bush tax cuts expiring at the end of 2012 and what the Congress decides to do about that.

WERTHEIMER: Well, let's not let a Monday go by without a small handicapping moment in the Republican presidential field. A couple of weeks ago you said watch Newt Gingrich and we're watching him climb the polls.

ROBERTS: Yes, but I think we might be watching him sink in the polls after a bad week for him. And I don't know who's next, Linda, as the not-Romney, Rick Santorum perhaps. He seems to be all over Iowa, and Ron Paul, he stays sort of steady in the polls and he's not running for Congress again, so you might watch him for a third party race, even if he doesn't win the nomination.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Cokie Roberts, thanks very much.

ROBERTS: Thank you, Linda.

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WERTHEIMER: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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