It's official: The congressional super committee has failed. The panel, charged with devising a plan to slash future deficits by $1.2 trillion, confirmed Monday what everyone in Washington already knew: Sorry, no deal. When the 12 members of the bipartisan panel officially threw up their hands, they essentially triggered automatic budget cuts starting in 2013, which will be split between domestic and defense spending. What else happens after this "epic fail"? Here, five possible next steps in the battle over the federal budget deficit:
1. Everyone will point fingers
"The rush is on to pin the blame on the donkey … or the elephant … or anything other than the exercise itself," says Ed Morrissey at Hot Air. Republicans will blame Democrats, saying they refused to consider major cuts to Medicare and Social Security, and used the panel as a soapbox to sell President Obama's new stimulus plan. Of course, Democrats will respond in kind, blaming the mess on Republicans and anti-tax activist Grover Norquist for saying no to increasing tax revenue. And if you're a Republican presidential candidate, like Mitt Romney, says Peter Grier in The Christian Science Monitor, you point fingers at President Obama, and say this was "another example of failed leadership" on his part.
2. Congress will try to block the defense cuts
This fight is far from over, says FoxNews.com. Powerful Republicans, including Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), are working on bills that would "prevent what they say would be devastating cuts to the military." But any effort to unravel any of the automatic cuts, agreed to in the August deal to raise the debt ceiling, is likely to ignite another high-profile showdown. President Obama is threatening to veto "any measure that attempts to turn off the automatic cut trigger," according to spokesman Jay Carney.
3. Ratings agencies may consider downgrading U.S. debt
"Economists are warning of dire consequences" stemming from this debacle, says Dominic Rushe at Britain's Guardian. The ratings agency Standard & Poor's "cited the 'extremely difficult' political conditions in Washington when it made the controversial decision to downgrade its rating on U.S. debt in August." The super committee was created to prove that members of Congress can make "hard choices" when they have to. Now, with fresh evidence that U.S. politicians aren't up to the job of managing the nation's finances, the ratings agencies might react with another downgrade.
4. We won't tackle the debt until at least 2013
Now that the super committee has folded, says Richard Cowan at Reuters, "the tough work of putting the United States' finances on a stable path will likely have to wait until 2013 at the earliest." Washington's "already bitter partisanship" will only get worse as tensions rise during the 2012 campaign, and our leaders will never strike a Grand Bargain during a tough election year.
5. Another recession will get a bit more likely
"The economy is weak," says Ezra Klein at The Washington Post, but we've been "picking up steam" lately. The super committee might have helped, if it had agreed to extend a payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits, and maybe even offered some new infrastructure spending to give the economy a lift. At the very least, "the simple sight of Congress coming to an agreement" would have shown the markets that our political system isn't beyond hope. "The super committee's failure throws all of that into doubt."