Published November 11, 2011
The so-called congressional debt Super Committee was created to rein in federal spending -- part of a deal to raise the debt ceiling and avoid the increasingly frequent political battles that wreak havoc in Washington.
"So the deal they came up with was, lift the ceiling and put in place the 'Super Committee' that would come forth with a deal to bring the debt down as much as they lifted the debt ceiling," says Maya MacGuineas of the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.
Dave Walker is the former head of the Government Accountability Office and founder of the anti-deficit group the Comeback America Initiative. He says, "There was a recognition that we had to increase the debt ceiling limit because we were spending $4 billion a day, every day, more than we were taking in."
But many recognized how destructive constant deficits are, so the Super Committee was born and given the task of coming up with savings of $1.2 trillion or more over 10 years. The problem is, the deficit in just this past year alone was more than that -- at $1.3 trillion.
"Even under the best scenarios -- the one the administration, for example, put out early in January -- 10 years from now we're running a deficit of $1.2 trillion," says Doug Holtz Eakin, former head of the Congressional Budget Office. "We simply have a very large problem that needs to be corrected."
In fact, the U.S. is now running deficits that are higher than any time since World War II.
"The numbers are dangerously high," MacGuineas said. "We know they'll continue on an unsustainable path. The debt will grow faster than the economy. And basically, it's a recipe for economic stagnation, if not disaster."
"If you look at the rankings of countries on fiscal responsibility and sustainability," says Dave Walker, "Greece is number 34, Italy is 27, the United States is number 28. We're in a bad neighborhood."
Nevertheless, President Obama is expected to seek another negotiated increase in the debt ceiling early next year in order to continue deficit spending.
"He has the power to do that automatically, and it will go through unless Congress disapproves it," says Holtz Eakin. "The odds of Congress disapproving it and the president not vetoing that disapproval are zero."
But he notes, "The problem in the future is so large that we'll exhaust the debt ceiling relatively quickly."
And analysts argue all future requests should be handled differently.
"Let's hope that this time when we deal with it, we deal with it both more responsibly and in a way that has real strings attached to it so that we could put into place some of the needed fiscal reforms -- at the same time that we do lift the debt ceiling," he said.