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Bipartisan debt-reduction panel surrounded by uncertainty

The fragile economy and wildly gyrating financial markets could put enormous pressure on Congress' new debt-reduction supercommittee. Yet even as leaders finished naming the bipartisan panel's members, it remained uncertain that it will ultimately agree on a savings plan.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced the panel's final three members Thursday, and like the previous nine, all are congressional veterans. They are Reps. James E. Clyburn of South Carolina and Xavier Becerra of California, members of their party's House leadership, and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, top Democrat on the Budget Committee.

Last week's agreement between President Obama and Congress creating the panel gives it until Nov. 23 to propose $1.5 trillion in savings over the coming decade. If the committee fails to agree on a plan -- or if Congress doesn't approve one by Dec. 23 -- automatic spending cuts would be triggered affecting hundreds of federal programs.

As if that weren't enough pressure, recent days have seen world financial markets endure breathtaking ups and downs, plus the downgrade of the nation's credit rating by Standard & Poor's and continued fears of economic weakness in the U.S. and Europe.

In a conference call with reporters, Clyburn said he believes the panel can produce more than $1.5 trillion in savings, as long as Republicans drop their objections to raising revenues.

"I think the moment we can get some of our Republican friends to stop interpreting closing loopholes as raising taxes, we'll get home free on this," he said.

Underscoring the political tensions involved, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said it is time for Obama "to outline his own recommendations to rein in the massive deficits and debt that are undermining job creation in our country."

There have been no indications that the two parties will back down on their bedrock demands: Democrats unwilling to accept cuts in Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid benefits, and Republicans refusing to allow tax increases. That deadlock has shoved huge potential savings off the table for bargainers.

That same stalemate prevented Obama and Congress from going beyond the roughly $2 trillion in debt reduction that last week's deal yielded, an amount budget analysts consider half or less of what is needed to begin taming the red ink.

All 12 members of the supercommittee -- evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans -- are longtime Washington politicians who seem likely to hew to party priorities.

Pelosi's choices brought racial diversity to the supercommittee: Clyburn is black, and Becerra is Hispanic.

The panel's co-chairmen will be conservative Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, part of the House GOP leadership, and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who heads the Senate Democratic campaign arm and will be the supercommittee's only woman.

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