Details about supercommittee cuts remain elusive

Wednesday - 11/16/2011, 12:05pm EST

Bill Frenzel, guest scholar, Brookings Institution

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By Jack Moore
Federal News Radio

With just a week to go before the supercommittee's deadline to come up $1.2 trillion in deficit cuts, questions abound.

If the panel can't agree on a deal, then across-the-board cuts from both civilian agencies and the Defense Department — known as sequestration — will be enacted.

But even if the supercommittee comes up with a plan, details about what and how they plan to cut remain elusive.

"At this point, we don't know where any of these axes are going to fall," said Bill Frenzel, a guest scholar of economic studies at the Brookings Institution. "The committee is working hard, but it hasn't revealed any progress it's made. So we're not sure what it's going to do."

One thing is certain, though. The cuts, whether through a committee compromise or sequestration, are sure to have an impact.

"It's going to change the way we all live," Frenzel, a former ranking minority member of the House Budget Committee, said in an interview with the Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Amy Morris

"I suspect that the effect is going to be felt all through the agencies of government," he added. "That no particular one is going to feel it more heavily than the others. We're all going to have to work a little differently."

By the skin of their teeth?

Frenzel said he thinks the panel will be fairly specific in its recommendations — that is, if it meets its deadline. He said the $1.2 trillion figure is "achievable," but that the supercommittee has been pushed and prodded by members of Congress and others to go even further.

That entails taking on the major entitlements and increasing revenue, both of which are "anathema" to Democrats and Republicans, respectively, Frenzel said.

"I think they can make their $1.2 trillion [goal] by the skin of their teeth," he said.

Larger cuts will be more difficult — but may be necessary, in the long run, he added.

"I think, for agencies, it would be better to know the total carnage early rather than have another round of these things occur next year, and another the following year," Frenzel explained. "It would be better if the committee could exceed its total this year, so that the agencies could plan for the future."

The "easiest" area for Congress to cut is domestic discretionary expenditure, he said. Defense, "which seems to be under the gun right at the moment," Frenzel said, is more difficult to cut but still doable.

Entitlements, "which have always been the third-rail of politics," Frenzel said, and revenue are the most entrenched.

These, which are often the most politically contentious, will likely be dealt with after all of the more palatable cuts have been made, he suggested.

Frenzel, who advised President Bill Clinton on free-trade agreement and President George W. Bush on Social Security, said a deterioration in bipartisanship is partly to blame for the down-to-the-wire Congressional budget antics.

"The Congress is as polarized as the public is," he said.