Did budget deal ever have chance?

Much ado about nothing.

The so-called congressional supercommittee that has been meeting over the past two months to hash out a deal to reduce the federal government's deficit by $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years appears to be a super flop.

Although the panel's life technically lasts until Wednesday, rules call for any agreement to be announced 48 hours in advance. That means that without a deal announced by the close of business Monday, the chances of reaching one are nil.

There is much speculation about whether Democrats and Republicans really wanted an agreement.

Republican cynics suggest that President Obama was hoping for failure so he can run next year — a la Harry Truman in 1948 — against a do-nothing Republican Congress. Apparently Obama is not troubled by the fact that Republicans don't control both houses of Congress. Democrats have the Senate while Republicans control the House.

Democratic cynics suggest that it was the congressional Republicans who didn't want a deal because they feared agreeing to a Democratic plan to raise taxes would hurt their cause in next year's presidential and congressional elections.

But whatever either side really wanted is one thing, while the fiscal reality is something completely different.

Remember last summer's panicked debate over extending the federal debt limit? Republicans used their leverage on the debt limit increase to force President Obama and congressional Democrats to recognize the need to cut spending because the ballooning federal debt — now in excess of $15 trillion — is out of control. The exchanges became quite heated, with many Democrats suggesting Republicans were irresponsibly creating the possibility of forcing the federal government to an unprecedented and unacceptable default on the debt.

Only in that atmosphere did both parties agree either to negotiate spending cuts through the super-committee or accept mandatory across-the-board reductions (called sequestration) in defense as well as in a wide range of social programs.

Well, they welshed on one-half of the deal — the super-committee negotiation — and it looks as if they're getting ready to pull a fast one on sequestration as well.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, joined by Republican Sen. John McCain, has said the defense cuts would be devastating and are unacceptable. So Congress next year can be expected to evade that commitment.

If defense isn't cut, it's a pretty fair bet that no social programs will be either.

If so, the country is back where it started after the debt ceiling deal was negotiated.

Ultimately, this issue will have to be resolved in next year's election.

In the meantime, the U.S. government is borrowing 37 cents of every $1 it spends. That rate of borrowing as well as the interest costs it generates is not sustainable.

Eventually, it will all come tumbling down.

It is Europe today. But it will be the U.S. tomorrow unless our politicians get serious about reducing spending, bringing in new revenue by rewriting the tax code to flatten rates and eliminate indefensible deductions and revising the rules surrounding entitlement spending in ways that preserve the futures of Social Security and Medicare.

Unfortunately, it looks more and more as if federal legislators in Washington, D.C., are no more capable of dealing with tough fiscal issues than are our state legislators in Springfield. They keep kicking the can down the road, hoping against hope that the problems will simply go away.

Of course, they will not go away. They will only get worse.

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