The so-called congressional "supercommittee," charged with recommending how to reduce federal spending by just 3 percent, failed recently. Now it remains to be seen whether a bipartisan group of lawmakers can stage a rescue.
For weeks, 12 members of the House of Representatives and Senate negotiated over the budget deficit. Their work began after Congress and President Barack Obama were unable to come to agreement on earlier deficit-reduction suggestions.
Congress had given the "supercommittee" a deadline to recommend ways to cut $1.2 trillion in deficit spending during a 10-year period. That is $120 billion per year - or about 3 percent of total government spending.
Legislation authorizing the project stipulated that if the panel failed, supposedly automatic spending cuts will be triggered. Those reductions are harsh in some ways; Defense experts have warned they would cripple the U.S. military.
And that is precisely why they will not be allowed to go into effect. There is nothing "automatic" about the cuts. Congress ordered them, and Congress can revoke them.
In other words, we are back where we started last summer. Well, not quite. When legislation authorizing the "supercommittee" was approved, the national debt was about $14.3 trillion. It now has topped $15 trillion - an increase of $700 billion.
Far from being satisfied with the $1.2 trillion in cuts the "supercommittee" was unable to find, fiscal conservatives - both Democrats and Republicans - want more.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., and Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., asked fellow senators to approve a resolution calling for $4 trillion in cuts during a 10-year period.
"It can't be about, 'Are you a good Democrat or a good Republican?' You have to put your politics aside," Manchin urged. He added that more leadership from Obama is needed.