Divided Congress Unlikely to Agree on Deficit, Taxes Pre-November

Boehner kicked off the latest economic episode last month by drawing an elephant in the sand and doubling down on his decree that Republicans will not accept a hike in the debt ceiling unless the amount is exceeded by spending reductions. Democrats quickly berated Boehner for submitting to pressure from the "extreme" Tea Party wing of the GOP.

The "dollar-for-dollar" vow also dictated the GOP's position in the negotiations to increase the debt limit last summer, with mixed results.

In the end, enough Republicans held together and Democrats reluctantly signed off on an agreement with the intent of getting even on a "big deal" during the super committee negotiations. But the super committee dragged to a stalemate and last summer's $2.4 trillion deal only bought lawmakers enough space to keep the government paying its debts through the 2012 election.

In the aftermath of the super committee's failure, lawmakers passed a number of short-term fixes to long-term problems, and in the process created the "taxmageddon" recipe of legislative imperatives to be addressed during the lame duck session of Congress, a concoction that will surely factor into the fate of Republican and Democratic incumbents alike this fall.

According to a ABC News/ Washington Post poll conducted by Langer Research last month, 52 percent of Americans call the economy the single most important issue in their vote, with all other responses – like repealing the president's signature health care law, reducing the budget deficit, taxes, family values, etc., in the single digits.

Now, the tanking financial markets, coupled with the disappointing jobs report, make reelection a daunting challenge for incumbents up and down the ballot. Already six incumbents, four Democrats and two Republicans, have already been defeated in House primary contests. Indiana Sen. Dick Luger, currently the longest-serving Republican in the Senate, also lost his primary as voters stoked the anti-incumbent fever that propelled Republicans into the House majority in 2010.

Congressional insiders say a "big deal" is practically impossible ahead of this fall's election. The battle lines are already drawn and each political party is depending on an authoritative mandate from the voters to direct the political class on how best to achieve deficit reduction.

Republicans like to emphasize that they control just half of one-third of the federal government. Democrats blame Republicans for using that limited check on power to obstruct the legislative process. As a result, each party is banking on voters to award them with unified control of both chambers of Congress and the White House.

House Republicans are hoping a class of a dozen so-called young gun candidates will displace a group of Democrat incumbents to increase their 50-seat majority. On the other side, Pelosi and the rest of her colleagues in the House minority are relying on dozens of Democratic candidates to reclaim seats held by Republicans in congressional districts that President Obama won in 2008.

And if divided government remains after November, brace for a free-for-all, as the "minority-majority" once again plays the spoiler until voters get another try in 2014.

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