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Absent a super committee, now who'll lean on Congress to cut US deficit?

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The US national debt has now roared past $15 trillion, up from the $14.3 trillion breached on Aug. 2. The government still borrows nearly 40 cents for every dollar it spends. Soaring health-care costs still threaten to drown Washington in red ink.

One explanation for the muted reaction is that the US debt woes have been vastly eclipsed by the prospect of a debt meltdown in Europe, struggling to avert fiscal collapse in Greece and Italy, among other nations. Moreover, Wall Street reacts to expectations, and Wall Street expected the 12-member panel to fail.

"Ironically, Europe's troubles give us a little more time," says Robert Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington.

"Problems with the euro make the dollar and US Treasurys look better relatively than they did before," he adds. "Whatever issues and concerns people have, it's still the best place to put your money."

That reprise from world markets may not last – a point acknowledged by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. But for now, fiscal crises elsewhere bought Congress and the White House some time to assess what went wrong and take another run at the problem.

With the failure of the super committee, responsibility for deficit reduction now falls back to the full Congress. But Republicans and Democrats remain as divided over a way forward as they were heading into the panel's deliberations.

Two views of the problem and solution

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