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Deficit Deal Impasse Threatens Key Initiatives

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Sen. John Kerry, a member of the super committee, talks with the media Thursday. He was one of the few panel members to come to the Capitol over the weekend to work on a plan to reduce the nation’s deficit despite a looming Wednesday deadline.

As both parties prepare to blame each other for the super committee’s likely failure, House and Senate leaders face the stark reality that they now have to take swift action to rescue key programs they were expecting the panel to extend.

Unemployment benefits, tax extenders, the payroll tax holiday and the Medicare “doc fix” — which prevents doctors’ payments from being slashed — are all expiring measures that leaders hoped the super committee would be able to bundle into a final deal, fast-tracking them to long-term renewal. Short of a super committee agreement, which appeared out of reach after a weekend of little to no negotiations, leadership will have to move these pieces on their own, in addition to a spending bill to avert a government shutdown Dec. 16.

“We don’t have the answers,” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said late last week when asked how Congress would deal with the expiring initiatives. “The super committee was put in place to avoid that so we would have at least a strategy to take us through the election, and if they don’t succeed, we have to address these issues. And the notion of imposing a new payroll tax on people after Jan. 1, in the midst of this recession, on working families, is totally counterproductive.”

Given the deep cynicism shrouding the super committee’s work for weeks, sources close to leadership said that the panel’s failure to reach a $1.2 trillion agreement by Wednesday was an outcome they accounted for in end-of-year plans. Although the House’s target adjournment date is Dec. 8, the Senate is booked through Christmas Eve, and both chambers likely will need more than just two workweeks to clear the legislative docket. Senate leadership aides indicated that there likely would be an early December stand-alone vote on extending the payroll tax cut, a piece of President Barack Obama’s jobs plan, but many of the other programs likely will need to be lumped together in some sort of end-of-the-year bill, whether through the continuing resolution or some other spending measure.

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