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Debt panel poised to admit failure

WASHINGTON (AP) — A special deficit-reduction supercommittee appears likely to admit failure today, unable or unwilling to compromise on a mix of spending cuts and tax increases required to meet its assignment of saving taxpayers at least $1.2 trillion over the coming decade.

The panel is sputtering to a close after two months of talks in which the members were never able to get close to bridging a fundamental divide over how much to raise taxes to address a budget deficit that forced the government to borrow 36 cents of every dollar it spent last year.

Members of the bipartisan panel, formed during the summer crisis over raising the government’s borrowing limit, spent their time on Sunday in testy performances on television talk shows, blaming each other for the impasse.

In a series of television interviews, not a single panelist seemed optimistic about any last-minute breakthrough. And it was clear that the two sides had never gotten particularly close, at least in the official exchanges of offers that were leaked to the media.

Aides said any remaining talks had broken off.

“There is one sticking divide. And that’s the issue of what I call shared sacrifice,” said panel co-chair Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“The wealthiest Americans who earn over a million a year have to share too. And that line in the sand, we haven’t seen Republicans willing to cross yet,” she said

Republicans said Democrats’ demands on taxes were simply too great and weren’t accompanied by large enough proposals to curb the explosive growth of so-called entitlement programs like Medicare and Medicaid.

“If you look at the Democrats’ position it was ‘We have to raise taxes. We have to pass this jobs bill, which is another almost half-trillion dollars. And we’re not excited about entitlement reform,’” countered Republican Jon Kyl of Arizona on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Under the committee’s rules, any plan would have to be unveiled Monday, but it appeared that Murray and co-chair Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas would instead issue a statement declaring the panel’s work at a close, aides said.

“Put a bow on it. It’s done,” said an aide to a supercommittee Republican.

Failure by the panel would trigger about $1 billion over nine years in automatic across-the-board spending cuts to a wide range of domestic programs and the Pentagon budget, starting in 2013, according to the Congressional Budget Office. This action, called a “sequester,” would also generate $169 billion in saving from lower interest costs on the national debt.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says the required cuts of up to $454 billion to the Pentagon would be “devastating” and leave a “hollow force,” and defense hawks of Capitol Hill promise to unwind them. But that effort will be complicated by the insistence of other lawmakers that the overall amount of the budget cuts be left in place.

“I can’t imagine that, knowing of the importance of national defense, that both Democrats and Republicans wouldn’t find a way to work through that process so we still get the $1.2 trillion in cuts, but it doesn’t all fall on defense,” said supercommittee Republican Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona.

The panel’s failure also sets up a fight within a battle-weary, dysfunctional Congress over renewing a payroll tax cut and jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed, both of which are set to expire at the end of the year. Both proposals are part of President Barack Obama’s $447 billion jobs plan.

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