All Eyes in Washington Turn to 'Super Committee' (UPDATED)

There’s a lot of grumbling on the left and on the right over the recently concluded agreement to increase the federal debt ceiling. Its passage didn’t prevent the U.S. from losing its “triple-A” bond rating, although the decision to drop it to “double-A-plus” by Standard and Poor’s is itself not without criticism.

The left says the deal went too far and that President Barack Obama showed he was weak by agreeing to it.  The right says it didn’t go far enough, with the spending cuts still being less than advertised and leaving the door wide open for a tax increase.

It’s not clear who’s right or if anyone is wrong.

The most controversial part of the deal is the complex arrangement by which Obama gets the second half of his debt ceiling increase -- which should take the issue off the table until after the 2012 election. It involves further reductions in spending, triggers leading to potential across-the-board cuts, and a 12-member congressional “super committee” composed of an equal number of Republicans and Democrats from the House and Senate.

The function of the committee -- the congressional Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction -- is to produce by Thanksgiving a list of $1.5 trillion in recommended savings that will be sent to the floor of the House and Senate where it must get an “up or down” vote by December 23. The report cannot be amended -- making it all or nothing.

If it’s “nothing” -- or if President Obama vetoes it and his veto is upheld, it triggers an additional $1.2 trillion in spending cuts, across the board, split evenly between domestic and defense spending in order to, as lots of people put it, “make sure the pain is spread evenly.”

As the deal was coming together, Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell said on Face the Nation that the committee would “have a broad mandate” to look at ways to help bring the federal books closer to balance.

Yet it’s that same "broad mandate” that has some people worried that the committee is going to produce a tax increase bill -- or one that pares the value of deductions and credits while leaving rates where they are, enacting a tax increase in all but name.

Count the White House among those who think the “super committee” can do just that.

After the deal was done, President Obama reiterated his call for a “balanced” approach to the problem, which everyone understands is code for raising taxes on all Americans making more than $250,000 a year.