Is the Super Committee Working?

As deadline approaches, the noise masks progress for the super committee's hopes.


Members are taking shots at each other, the parties are loudly decrying their opponents' proposals, the deadline is just over two weeks away and the prospects for common ground look dim. Is the super committee working?

Perhaps. In D.C.'s current standoff culture, things tend to get hottest and angriest right before a deal is struck. And while details are still too vague to know for certain, there has been movement towards some type of resolution for the panel, which is supposed to come up with at least $1.2 trillion in long-term spending reductions as part of the debt ceiling deal passed this summer. Rep. Jeb Hensarling, the Texas Republican who co-chairs the committee, initially got the ball rolling in an interview with the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal where he seemed to suggest a possible trade—eliminating or capping tax deductions while also setting into stone the Bush-era tax cuts, which are to expire at the end of 2012.

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Democrats immediately blasted the deal. One Democratic aide called it a "joke." Some Republicans have implied that the committee is at a standstill, but Democrats insist that they're just waiting for a real offer. But at the same time, the conversation has now apparently changed to how or where the super committee will find new tax revenues—not if. That could be the key to finding common ground between the parties.

Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, said that the tax proposal could be a "breakthrough." For Republicans, the idea of a swap for the Bush tax cuts is appealing. The Bush tax cuts become kind of a cloak to hide the fact that they would be pushing for increased taxes when compared with the 2011 law. That might appease some anti-tax crusaders, although influential anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist has said he would see such a move as a tax hike, regardless.

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Still, ideas that might seem politically feasible behind closed doors take on a whole new life when they're brought out into the open. Rumors of the super committee's proposals have produced some pushback from groups that would be affected. Charity organizations, for instance, are defending the tax deduction for charitable donations, something that the super committee is reportedly considering capping.

While the only taxpayers who would be hit would be high earners, charities themselves are worried they could see less donations flowing their way.

"With so many Americans relying on the charitable sector, especially during these tough economic times, we are very concerned about proposals that could jeopardize the charitable gifts that are so important to non-profits," the American Red Cross said in a statement.

The issue is complicated, though. The Committee for a Responsible Budget, which pushes for more drastic cost-cutting measures, argues that because of the way the deductions are some of the proposed caps to charitable deductions wouldn't decrease giving very much, and in some cases could increase them.

Although the deadline is two weeks away, the committee will need to unveil something soon to get through all of the procedure, including a cost estimate, before it is presented to Congress by the Nov. 23 deadline.

Twitter: @AlexParkerDC