The congressional supercommittee officially tossed in the towel on Monday afternoon. That's after the six Democrats and six Republicans failed to get close to any agreement on how to achieve at least $1.2 trillion in debt reduction over the next ten years.
Now Washington confronts what's known as the "sequester": $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts that take effect January 2013. Half the cuts come from defense, and hawkish lawmakers are already pledging to undo those. But the other half come from across-the-board cuts to discretionary programs, including transportation. On Monday evening, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood issued the following statement:
“When times are tough, Americans have always come together to accomplish big things. It’s disappointing that some in Congress haven’t been willing to do the same. Because the supercommittee failed to reach an agreement, we now face across-the-board cuts to programs that are critical to rebuilding our crumbling transportation infrastructure and putting Americans back to work."
President Obama pledged Monday to veto any attempt by Congress to undo the cuts, absent a broader deal on the debt.
Another casualty of the supercommittee failure was President Obama's jobs package. Democrats had hoped to attach significant infrastructure spending to the committee's end product. LaHood had this to say in his statement:
“The American people want common sense, bipartisan solutions that take a balanced approach to reducing the deficit while protecting critical transportation investments that create jobs and allow our economy to grow. When Congress comes back next month, I urge them to set aside politics and get to work on a bipartisan plan that will allow us to live within our means, while also meeting our responsibility to rebuild America’s critical transportation infrastructure.”
A White House official said Monday evening that Democrats would have a "laser" focus on enacting parts of the president's jobs plan between now and the end of the year. Presumably that will mean a return to infrastructure policy and attacking Republicans over their unwillingness to pass more stimulus.
House Republicans have unveiled their own 5-year transportation bill, funding the Highway Trust Fund to the tune of $130 billion and making streamlining reforms to infrastructure grants and loans. House Speaker John Boehner says he would like to see the bill pass before the end of the year.