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Super gridlock; Flexibility seems to be in short supply on debt reduction supercommittee

Given the performance of Congress to date, one wonders if we should have high hopes for the joint congressional committee that is to come up with a deficit reduction plan that can pass the president and the Congress.

The "supercommittee" has until Nov. 23 to propose at least $1.2 trillion in savings over 10 years.

But with the national debt more than $14 trillion and rising fast, that $1.2 trillion spread out over 10 years falls far short of what is needed. The target should be $4.5 trillion.

With its usual trickery, Congress put forth the trillion-dollar number, but then spread it out over 10 years. That's only $120 billion a year and is just not going to get the job done. And, trick No. 2, it doesn't even begin to happen until 2013. Furthermore, any cuts that are agreed to this year can be undone by a future Congress.

There is one optimistic note -- the committee is able to go far beyond just spending cuts and consider reforming the tax code, entitlement programs that cannot be financially sustained and the Obama health care program, which could prove to be the most costly entitlement program of all.

The Republicans, who say Medicare will flounder as payments wipe out the trust fund, will have an opportunity to put forth their recommendations for the program -- at the risk of alienating the entire senior citizen community and paying the price at the polls. Republicans were successful in holding the president and Democrats hostage in the debt ceiling crisis. Now, let's see how much courage they have during the upcoming committee discussions.

If this situation isn't bad enough, members of the supercommittee have special projects they want to protect and special interest groups bending their ears.

And if you are looking for committee members to compromise, you shouldn't be too hopeful. All Republican members have actually signed a pledge not to raise taxes. The Democrats appointed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid appear equally dedicated to defending entitlements. So much for flexibility, compromise and an attitude of "can't we all just get along?"

Alan Simpson, who co-chaired the president's National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, when told about the no-tax pledge, said, "We ain't got a prayer."

Given the entrenched, uncompromising interests at play, perhaps all we have left is prayer.

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