For Deficit Supercommittee, Obama’s Speech Complicates an Already Tough Task

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“Everything in this bill will be paid for,” President Obama promised as he outlined his plan to jump-start the sputtering economy. “Everything.” But Obama isn’t the one charged with deciding how. That task, if the President’s plan ever gets that far, will fall to the members of the joint “supercommittee” on deficit reduction, already charged with pinpointing $1.5 trillion in savings by Thanksgiving. Before they’ve even begun work, amid high expectations and the harsh glare of the Capitol spotlights, Obama is now asking them to lop off an additional $447 billion to foot the bill for his proposed package of tax cuts and infrastructure projects. “Tonight, I am asking you to increase that amount so that it covers the full cost of the American Jobs Act,” the President said.

The request layers an additional challenge onto an already tough job. “It’s a little discouraging that he’s going to at some point give us additional responsibilities when we’re struggling to meet the ones we already have,” Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio told Politico. “By asking the Joint Select Committee to increase the $1.5 trillion target to cover the full cost of his plan, the president is essentially tasking a committee designed to reduce the deficit to pay for yet another round of stimulus,” Representative Jeb Hensarling, the Republican co-chair of the committee, said in a statement. “This proposal would make the already-arduous challenge of finding bipartisan agreement on deficit reduction nearly impossible.”

Republicans weren’t the only ones. “It adds to our challenge,” Democratic Senator Max Baucus told reporters after the speech. By singling out social safety-net programs like Medicare for reform, Obama may also have ratcheted up pressure on members of his party seeking to protect the program, which Republicans have homed in on as a source of savings.

But other Democrats suggest Obama’s proposed approach, which pairs short-term spending to create jobs with a long-term deficit reduction plan the President promised to release soon, could be a boon for the group. Supercommittee members from both sides said Thursday that they’d prefer to aim higher than the $1.5 trillion baseline. By raising the bar, they argue, Obama may help spur the group to tackle thorny issues such as tax reform, where the two sides may be able to find common ground. That is, if its members can resist the familiar urge to pack up and go home when things don’t break their way.