When the super committee on deficit reduction begins meeting early next month, the expectations for the bipartisan group of lawmakers to succeed will be immense as the country's stagnant economy limps through another partisan battle on Capitol Hill.
But for an ostensibly stubborn, divided Congress that has faced legislative gridlock most of the year, the trillion-dollar question is whether the bipartisan team will reach a consensus to reduce the deficit by $1.2 trillion before the Nov. 23 deadline, or will the committee work right up to the cut-off date only to produce another report that fails to address the country's most pressing challenges on spending.
Since House Speaker John Boehner seized the gavel Jan. 5, the president has signed just 29 acts of Congress into law -- including a host of non-landmark items like four temporary FAA reauthorizations, and a slew of administrative measures such as naming federal buildings and extending the term of the FBI director -- hardly legislative victories for the president to boast about on the campaign trail.
So far this year, political showdowns on the most significant measures the president has signed into law -- the FY2011 continuing resolution to fund the government and the Budget Control Act to raise the debt limit -- sucked up most of the political oxygen in Washington this year. The partisan fight nearly brought down the economy before the divided Congress finally buckled on a compromise and sent a deal to the president.
It's unclear how soon the latest deficit reduction committee could sit down to begin deliberations, but sources indicate the appointees likely will not become engaged in direct negotiations until after Labor Day when Congress returns to session from summer recess.
Earlier this month the president signed another short-term FAA extension, so Congress will also have to quickly return to that issue when both Houses return to session after Labor Day, as the extension runs out once again on Sept. 16.
Republican aides concede that there's an obvious necessity to enact tax reform, but the party is still uniformly opposed to any tax increases and maintain that the super committee "is not the venue for overhauling all of the entitlements."
Today, Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor wrote in an op-ed that "the worst thing Washington can do for our economy is raise taxes" and noted the Budget Control Act "represents a step toward fiscal sanity in Washington, but only a step."
"Over the next few months, as a result of the Budget Control Act, lawmakers of both parties on the newly formed joint select committee will be in a position to make tough choices to rein in the mandatory and entitlement spending that is driving our long-term debt," the GOP leaders wrote. "We believe this work can be done without imposing job-crushing tax increases. We should be able to move forward on the areas in which we agree on the former, without tying them to areas of disagreement - such as the latter."
According to a senior GOP aide, the committee -- facing the prospect of automatic triggers to slash sacred cows near and dear to both sides of the aisle -- has a real incentive to get something done, but at the same time Republicans are working to keep expectations in check and point out that ending tax breaks for corporate jets does not even make a dent in addressing the nation's deficit crisis.