By Tory Newmyer
November 21, 2011

How’s this for dysfunction: Not only is the Congressional super-committee poised to fail in its deficit-cutting mission, the panel can’t even agree on how to announce its own failure.

With the clock winding down for a last-minute breakthrough, members of the super-committee — a name that now sounds ruefully ironic — have stooped to finger-pointing. According to the Washington Post, their aides wrapped up Sunday in a valedictory dispute, with Republicans pressing for a joint written statement of failure from the panel’s co-chairs and Democrats angling for a brief public announcement.

So there will be no bargain, grand or otherwise, to trim at least $1.2 trillion from the deficit over the next ten years. Already-jittery markets responded to the news on Monday with a sell-off. Economists are warning of a real economic impact if Congress fails to extend the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance — which likely would have been dealt with in a deal but now face expiration at the end of the year, along with a number of targeted business tax breaks. And though the credit agencies aren’t likely to flinch just yet, U.S. debt could face another downgrade if lawmakers move to unwind the painful automatic cuts triggered by the deficit committee’s collapse and set to take effect in January 2013.

There will be plenty of bellyaching in the days ahead about our broken political system, and fairly so. This Congress has come by its 13% approval rating honestly.

But if there’s a silver lining here, it may be this: With the fate of the Bush tax cuts and broader entitlement reform now punted past the 2012 elections, the supercommittee has guaranteed that contest will frame the starkest national debate in a generation about our priorities as a nation and the proper role of government in pursuing them.

The deficit panel’s charge was huge, and maybe too big. The conversation that has been playing out among 12 people behind closed doors over the last three months can now be picked up by the American people.

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