Taxes, war spending focus of first super committee session

Discussion for saving federal money centers on unemployment, taxes and wars.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said the fastest and most efficient way to reduce the deficit long term is to lower unemployment and to take a balanced approach that -- contains savings achieved from modernizing certain programs, as well as savings gained from simplifying. He also urged reforming the tax code to generate more revenue.

At its first public session, the congressional "super committee" created by the debt ceiling deal had little to say about salary freezes, furloughs or other federal workforce measures for cutting government costs.

Coming after several months of legislation that would have imposed staff reductions and furloughs, along with a salary freeze that did go into effect, federal employees were concerned they would be a prime target for the panel. Instead, the members of Congress appointed to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction heard testimony by Douglas Elmendorf, director of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), and talked about unemployment and war funding.

"We all agree that we're facing an unsustainable financial future, and under the CBO's alternative fiscal scenario, the debt is going to reach 82 percent of GDP by 2021," said Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) "It's higher than in any year since 1948, and we all agree that we can't let that happen."

Kerry argued that the country made some wrong turns more than a decade ago. "Some would argue [it's been] even longer," he said. "You have economic meltdown, two wars, rounds of the largest tax cuts in history that did not produce the jobs some had predicted and then efforts to forestall larger economic collapse -- all of these contributed."

"Addressing a problem of this magnitude requires shared responsibility in order to grow our economy and reduce the deficit," Van Hollen added.

Elmendorf pointed to the aging population and increasing costs for health care as factors that will push up federal spending, requiring significant changes in spending policies and tax policies.

But changes must be thought through and cannot be done haphazardly, Elmendorf warned.

"Implementing spending cuts or tax increases abruptly would give families, businesses and state and local government little time to plan and adjust, he said. 

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