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Deficit super committee fails: Who's to blame?

The members of the super committee tasked with cutting $1.2 trillion from federal budgets announced that it failed to reach a deal. Polls and newspapers chime in on why that happened. 

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US Sen. John Kerry (D) of Massachusetts looks out a window before an interview about the super committee near his office on Capitol Hill in Washington Monday.

Jonathan Ernst/REUTERS

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No deal on how to cut federal deficits. That's the outcome as weeks of negotiating brought a so-called super committee of 12 lawmakers down to its practical deadline.

For now at least, it's over except the shouting over who's to blame.

Each of the two major political parties, not surprisingly, says the other is at fault. But early opinion polls suggest that, in the eyes of the voting public, the criticism may stick to the Republicans more than it does the Democrats.

Although the committee's deadline for handing a plan to the full Congress was Wednesday, Nov. 23, the panel also was supposed to make any plan public 48 hours ahead of its vote. So Monday was its effective deadline.

One sign of disappointment outside the Washington Beltway: Stock prices fell sharply Monday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average losing more than 2 percent as the super committee and worries about fiscal policies in Europe weighed on investors.

The broader gauge of public opinion, so far, comes in response to hypothetical questions about a super committee failure.

In a CNN/Opinion Research poll conducted Nov. 11-13, some 42 percent of Americans said that Republicans would be "more responsible" than Democrats if the committee fails to present a deficit-reduction plan. Thirty-two percent said Democrats would be "more responsible," and 19 percent said both parties would share blame.

Similarly, a recent McClatchy/Marist poll found 39 percent would blame congressional Republicans, 27 percent would blame Democrats, and 23 percent would blame both.

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Why the extra blame on Republicans? The polls don't ask respondents their rationale, but it appears that positions on taxes hold the key. Most Americans agree, at least in general terms, with the Democratic push to get high-income Americans to pay more in taxes. Although Republicans on the super committee opened the door to the possibility of more tax revenue, many Americans don't believe the GOP has shown enough flexibility on the issue.

"For the past two decades, Republicans have obstructed just about every serious effort to get control of the federal budget by opposing tax increases, even in packages with major spending cuts," said a recent editorial in USA Today.

The editorial praised committee member Sen. Pat Toomey (R) of Pennsylvania for braving criticism from his own party, and putting forth a proposal that raised new tax revenues. But it argued that the offer of some $300 billion in new tax revenue over 10 years didn't go far enough.

Put in context: The committee's mandate from Congress is to find $1.2 trillion or more in deficit reduction over that period. And many finance experts have issued call for a bigger bargain that would total some $4 trillion in deficit reduction, through spending cuts and perhaps $1 trillion in tax-revenue increases.

Even hitting the bigger target would leave the US running deficits, and probably struggling to find further cuts as baby boomer retirements add to the cost of health-care entitlements in years ahead.

Some columnists and bloggers argue that Republicans, influenced by tea party voters and antitax lobbyist Grover Norquist, even sought to make the super committee a venue for bestowing new tax cuts on the America's wealthy.

"The primary sticking point was over whether the rich should see their contribution to deficit reduction increase or decrease," Washington Post blogger Greg Sargent wrote Monday.

One liberal research group analyzing the Toomey plan found that his idea of a top tax bracket of 28 percent (while eliminating many deductions), would shift the tax burden increasingly onto middle-class households. The plan would be a tax cut for high-income people, locking in rates lower than those in the Bush tax cuts that are set to expire at the end of 2012, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says.

Other columnists, however, argue that blame is an equal-opportunity game, calling out Democrats for failing to get serious about reforming entitlements such as Medicare to lower their fast-rising costs.

And some say that the party's leader, President Obama, has failed to lead. "He has the bully pulpit, but he hasn't used it," argued Robert Samuelson in a Washington Post column.

A number of big-city newspapers across the country have taken a centrist view, calling on both parties to compromise.

"Any serious blueprint to reduce the national debt – now $15 trillion – requires both more revenue and brakes on automatic spending," the Cleveland Plain-Dealer said in a recent editorial.

After reviewing the state of play, a Baltimore Sun editorial said: "The next step? Split the differences down the middle and end up with a $1.6 billion package that is 65 percent based on spending cuts and 35 percent on tax increases – or at least something in that neighborhood."

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