Debt debate: What comes next

@CNNMoney August 4, 2011: 12:15 PM ET

These guys have more work to do.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- The fight over the national debt is not over. Not even close.

Sure, lawmakers voted to raise the debt ceiling. But over the next few months, Washington is set to engage in battle after battle over the fiscal course of the federal government.

First up: the "super committee."

The debt ceiling deal put caps in place on domestic and defense spending, resulting in cuts of $917 billion over 10 years.

But the measure also created a special bipartisan joint committee of Congress. The committee -- six Democrats and six Republicans -- will have until Nov. 23 to come up with a proposal to cut between $1.2 trillion and $1.5 trillion.

Congress will then take an up-or-down vote on the proposals without amendment by Dec. 23.

Already, there is a deadline approaching. The members must be chosen within two weeks of President Obama signing the bill into law.

The lucky souls chosen by their party leaders face an uphill battle. They will be tasked with finding ways to cut the deficit while navigating tough issues that have festered in Washington for decades: taxes, along with cuts to entitlements, defense and discretionary spending.

What's wrong with the debt ceiling deal

The members of the committee will face intense pressure from lobbyists and special interest groups, as well as their fellow lawmakers -- who have to run reelection campaigns and want their views represented.

A dispute has, of course, already erupted over whether the committee will tackle taxes, and which baseline should be used to measure cuts.

While the committee -- once appointed -- faces a series of tough choices, they also have a powerful incentive to finish their work on time, and on budget.

The committee's goal is to cut at least $1.5 trillion in debt. If it fails to do that or deadlocks, the sword of Damocles will fall on most forms of spending in the federal budget.

Specifically, as much as $1.2 trillion in across-the-board cuts would kick in -- evenly divided between defense and non-defense spending.

The battle over 2012: While the super committee hunts for more ways to slash the budget, lawmakers will have to decide on agency spending levels for fiscal year 2012, which starts Oct. 1.

As part of the debt ceiling deal, Congress decided to cut spending for the year, but not which programs and agencies will receive less money.

The deadline for making those tough choices is just around the corner.

The law Obama signed Tuesday sets discretionary spending levels for 2012 at $1.043 trillion and at $1.047 trillion for 2013 -- or an accrued total of $10 billion below current levels.

Congress has made little progress on the normal appropriations process, and faces the risk of starting the year with a short-term stopgap spending plan, called a continuing resolution.

That sounds an awful lot like what happened with the fiscal 2011 budget, when the process degenerated into a protracted battle that brought the government to the edge of a shutdown.

Congress passed seven continuing resolutions over the course of six months.

Of course, short-term spending bills are nothing new. Congress has enacted at least one every year for all but three of the past 30. But seven in one year was unprecedented, and indicative of partisan gridlock.

It now appears lawmakers will face the same kind of battle over 2012 funding, at the same time the super committee will be doing its work and presenting its findings. To top of page

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