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Five days left: Would failure by budget super committee matter?

As the “super committee” deadline approaches, some say it won’t be disaster if the panel fails to deliver. The battles will just be fought again after the next election – and maybe then the side with the best ideas will have more political clout. 

By Staff writer / November 19, 2011

Super committee co-chair Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) speaks to reporters as she arrives for a meeting in the Capitol in Washington Friday. The special congressional committee is tasked with finding at least $1.2 trillion in budget savings over 10 years, but with a November 23 deadline looming, Republicans and Democrats have not yet sealed a deal.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

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After weeks of bargaining, a bipartisan "super committee" on federal finances is drawing toward its deadline with no deal in sight.

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That sounds like a bad thing. 

But is it? This question is moving toward the forefront of political discussion as the scenario of no bargain – grand or otherwise – looks increasingly likely.

GALLERY: Who's who on the deficit "super committee"

The super committee of 12 lawmakers was set up this summer in debt-ceiling legislation with the following mandate: Figure out how to cut $1.2 trillion or more from federal deficits over the next decade, or else automatic cuts affecting both domestic and military spending will be imposed.

Many people outside Washington would like to see Republicans and Democrats compromise. That includes both ordinary voters and economists who see serious fiscal challenges and don't necessarily believe either party has all the answers.

Yet an alternative outlook – held by some on both left and right – is also cropping up as the super committee's Nov. 23 deadline (next Wednesday) approaches. 

That view: Don't get hot and bothered if the panel fails to deliver. The battles will just be fought again after the next election – and maybe on that day the side with the best ideas will have more political clout. 

Here's the latest word from New York Times columnist Paul Krugman on the left: "Don't we eventually have to match spending and revenue?" Yes, he says, but "it's a decision that should be made by voters, not by some committee that allegedly transcends the partisan divide."

And here's a conservative editorial from the Wall Street Journal Friday, arguing against a compromise that Democrats insist should include higher tax revenues: "If the super committee choice is between a tax increase that would hurt the economy or letting the sequester [automatic spending cuts] strike in 2013, go with the sequester."

Although Mr. Krugman and the Journal's editorial disagree about tax policy, they share the premise that kicking the can of decisionmaking down the road, past the 2012 elections, isn't that bad.

Here's the other view, though. It's quite possible that neither political party will get a strong mandate for its views in the 2012 elections, and when the two major parties show an inability to find compromises, it erodes the public confidence and optimism at a time when a weak economy has already created a downbeat mood.

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