WASHINGTON &mdahs; North Carolina's congressional delegation expressed frustration and shame Monday after a special bipartisan supercommittee failed to reach agreement on cutting at least $1.2 trillion from federal deficits.
The committee's failure triggered a fresh wave of partisan wrangling, as members of Congress blamed the opposition's party for failing to come to terms on taxes, spending and Social Security.
"I didn't think they would do anything to put their political careers at risk," Rep. Brad Miller, D-N.C, of Raleigh, said of Republicans. He blamed the GOP for failing to consider increased taxes on wealthy Americans.
U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., of Cherryville, criticized Democrats for failing to come up with any solution that didn't include raising taxes. Like other Republicans, he blamed President Barack Obama for a "lack of leadership" toward finding an agreement.
"This is another missed opportunity," McHenry said.
The collapse of the 12-member panel was announced Monday in a joint statement by co-chairs Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas.
"After months of hard work and intense deliberations, we have come to the conclusion today that it will not be possible to make any bipartisan agreement available to the public before the committee's deadline," the co-chairs said.
Rep. Heath Shuler, D-N.C., of Haywood County, who led a 100-member bipartisan push to cut $4 trillion from the deficit, said Monday's breakdown was the biggest disappointment of his career. He called the committee's failure another reason Congress has such historically low approval ratings.
Shuler asked House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to bring a bipartisan proposal created by former University of North Carolina system President Erskine Bowles and former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson to the House floor. The Bowles-Simpson plan called for $3.9 trillion in deficit reduction.
"We've got to get some of this stuff scored and have an opportunity to vote on it," Shuler said. "That way you can see who is playing politics and who is willing to work in a bipartisan way."
The mood on Capitol Hill was gloomy as members expressed concern that an already angry public is likely to be even more outraged with their politicians. One recent survey showed Congress's approval rating at 9 percent.
The supercommittee plan was flawed from the start, said Rep. David Price, D-N.C., of Chapel Hill. He said the panel didn't consider enough avenues for job creation, economic recovery and long-term investments.
Price cited his work as a member of both the House budget and appropriations committees in the 1990s, when he helped President Bill Clinton push a balanced budget through a divided Congress with a combination of tax increases and spending cuts.
"It's depressingly simple," Price said. "It's really not a very complicated story. I know a lot of people try to make it complicated. The bottom line is the Republican Party is simply incapable or unwilling to make the kind of comprehensive deal we know this situation requires. And they simply will not deal with the taxes of the wealthiest people in the country. And here we are."
Because of Monday's failure, automatic spending cuts will be triggered in January 2013.
Half the cutbacks will come from defense, half from domestic spending. Programs affecting lower-income programs and Social Security will be exempt. Medicare cuts can affect providers, not beneficiaries.
Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., said N.C. residents want their politicians to stop bickering and work together.
"Disappointed only begins to describe how I feel about the supercommittee's failure to come together to get our fiscal house in order," Hagan said. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., who is in Afghanistan, couldn't be reached.
(DAVID LIGHTMAN AND WILLIAM DOUGLAS OF MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS AND OBSERVER REPORTER TIM FUNK CONTRIBUTED.)
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