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What happens if deficit super committee fails? Maybe nothing.

The latest rumor in Congress is that the massive $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts – designed to take effect if the deficit super committee fails to come up with its own plan – might never happen.

The US Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction holds a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Monday. The bipartisan congressional committee formed to address the deficit issue and known in Washington as the 'super committee' needs to break an impasse between Republicans and Democrats to reach a deal by November 23 to reduce the US budget deficit by at least $1.2 trillion.

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

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If the super committee fails, will there be any real consequences? Or will a future Congress take one look at the draconian automatic cuts set to take hold in 2013 – $600 billion to defense, $600 billion to entitlements – and say, no way.

That’s the latest rumor in Washington this week, as the 12-member joint deficit reduction committee struggles to find a $1.2 trillion package of cuts that can pass the panel and the Congress.

What if they fail – and nothing happens? After all, the automatic cuts kick in after the 2012 elections – when a new Congress will be in Washington. Will that Congress feel bound by the decisions of the previous Congress?

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Speaker John Boehner (R) of Ohio told a roundtable of reporters Thursday that he feels morally bound to carry out the automatic cuts – known as the sequester option –should the super committee fail.

“Yes, I would feel bound by it,” he said. “It was part of the agreement. Either we succeed, or we’re in the sequester. The sequester is ugly. Why? Because we don’t want anybody to go there. That’s why we have to succeed.”

But some GOP colleagues have already signaled that they are not prepared to preside over what would be more than $1 trillion in defense spending cuts over 10 years – and will call to repeal the mandatory cuts.

“The sequester is an absolute national security disaster,” says Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who has pledged to replace it. “There will be virtually no support when the new Congress understands what it does.”

In fact, the practice of restoring defense cuts after first claiming them as part of deficit reduction has settled into habit on Capitol Hill. It’s common for lawmakers to vote defense cuts, for example, then restore them in a subsequent “emergency” spending package. Few labels are as fatal in congressional politics as the charge of being weak on defense.


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