The 12-member congressional Super Committee has until Thanksgiving to come up with another $1.2 trillion in federal spending cuts. Since it deliberates behind closed doors, no one really knows whether it is making progress or spinning its wheels.
So the best you can do is look for clues. One top House GOP lawmaker suggested the $1.2 trillion in savings could come entirely from health care reductions.
Congressman Denny Rehberg, R-MONT, who chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee that deals with health care spending, said the savings could be achieved with two simple modifications to the federal health care reform law adopted last year. One change would knock out proposed Medicaid expansion; the other would trim subsidies to help people buy health insurance.
At the same time, the Wall Street Journal reported that nearly 50 percent of Americans live in households that receive some form of federal aid. Almost 35 percent are in households receiving food stamps, subsidized housing, cash welfare or Medicaid benefits. Almost 15 percent receive Medicare benefits and nearly 16 percent receive Social Security benefits.
Democrats are apparently rolling out their own bogeymen — subsidies for oil companies — for the chopping block.
The grand bargain, which would involve some kind of revenue increases married to cuts in large domestic programs, doesn't appear to be a live option for the Super Committee. Some of the whispers out the shadows suggest that conversation hasn't progressed beyond the public stalemate between Republican Congressional leaders and President Obama and his Democratic supporters.
Secret meetings haven't stopped interest groups with a vital stake in the outcome of the budget negotiations from communicating with members of the Super Committee and the entire Congress.
"We are not taking anything for granted on behalf of our clients," says CFM's Ali Santore. "We have identified issues of concern and are communicating with key players and their staffs. We don't want anyone to say they were unaware of how a proposed cut or program change can impact the lives of everyday people."
Failure by the Super Committee to find a consensus will lead to automatic cuts in entitlement programs and defense spending, arguably outcomes neither party wants just before an election year. Perhaps even worse would be the stigma of a can-do-nothing Congress by an electorate already deeply cynical about Washington.
Northwest senators are teaming up to save spuds in school lunches.
Oregon Senator Ron Wyden joined with his Republican colleagues from Idaho, Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, to block the U.S. Department of Agriculture from restricting the amount of potatoes on school lunch menus. USDA says it wants to reduce the amount of starchy food in school lunches. Wyden, Crapo and Risch counter that potatoes are nutritious and reducing their use will lead to higher costs for school lunches.
Not surprisingly, the senators are voicing concerns from one of the major potato-growing regions in America.