David Welna | KBIA

David Welna

The congressional deficit-reduction supercommittee must agree before Thanksgiving to slice more than $1 trillion from projected deficits, or that money will be cut automatically from future budgets.

The fundamental divide between the panel's six Democrats and six Republicans has been over whether tax revenues should come into play. And with less than a week to go before the deadline, some Republicans are considering new tax revenue. But even the hint of compromise on that issue is dividing Republicans on Capitol Hill.

The last in a three-part series on thinkers who have had a lasting influence on economic policymakers. Other stories featured Ayn Rand and Friedrich Hayek.

What Congress does, sometimes it later tries to undo. That's what happened a few days ago, when the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a measure repealing the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA.

Under DOMA, the federal government is bound to recognize only those marriages between a man and a woman. When the law passed 15 years ago, not one state recognized same-sex marriage. Six do so now, as well as the District of Columbia. But the effort to overturn DOMA faces stiff resistance from congressional Republicans.

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Fifteen years ago, Congress overwhelmingly approved the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA. It said, while each state could decide how to define marriage, the federal government would only recognize the legal union of a man and a woman.

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Ari Shapiro filling in for Steve Inskeep, who's visiting Oregon Public Broadcasting in my hometown of Portland.

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Fifth in a series

Perhaps more than any other Republican running for president this year, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann has railed against taxes. She says they're too high, and that the current tax code should be repealed.

But Bachmann had a somewhat surprising early career: going after tax evaders as a prosecutor for the Internal Revenue Service.

'Know Your Enemy'?

At times, the congresswoman and former state senator has seemed to deny that for nearly her entire professional life, she's been on the public payroll.

The clock is ticking down on Capitol Hill as a congressional supercommittee has only until Thanksgiving to agree on a plan shrinking deficits by more than a trillion dollars. The entire Congress then has to pass it by Christmas Eve or face huge across-the-board spending cuts.

Twenty-five years ago, another politically divided Congress approved the biggest tax code overhaul in the nation's history. But much has changed since then.

It's been nearly two weeks since President Obama urged a crowd of supporters in Denver to turn up the heat on lawmakers in Washington to pass his $447 billion jobs bill. So far on Capitol Hill, it's gone nowhere.

That could change Tuesday when the Senate holds a vote on taking up the legislation. But fierce Republican opposition both to the bill and how it's paid for leaves slim prospects of it going any further.

The debate on trade sanctions against China that has roiled the Senate all week comes to a head in a make-or-break vote Thursday. Earlier this week, 79 senators voted to take up the bill, which could slap punitive tariffs on imports from China, the largest U.S. trading partner.

The legislation has strong backing from Democrats and Republicans alike; they say it could boost American jobs by punishing China's efforts to keep its currency undervalued and its exports underpriced. Opponents warn that should the bill become law, it could touch off a devastating trade war.

The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction — also known as the supercommittee — created by Congress this summer has just seven weeks to agree on a plan reducing projected deficits by more than a trillion dollars.

If that panel of six Democrats and six Republicans deadlocks, or if Congress rejects its work, by law automatic across-the-board budget cuts — half of them from defense spending — will be triggered. Already, talk is growing of undoing that trigger.

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It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.

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NPR's David Welna reports.

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Now with divisions in Congress deepening, there was one development this week that caught some observers by surprise. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the number three Republican in the Senate, announced he's stepping down from that leadership post.

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The newly formed congressional supercommittee's 12 members are charged with finding more than $1 trillion in budget savings this fall. Their clout could attract more campaign contributions, and lawmakers are demanding greater accountability for the money the panel's members take in.

Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) has a mixed voting record when it comes to campaign finance reform, but he is adamant about making the six Republicans and six Democrats on the deficit-reduction supercommittee more accountable.

Republicans aren't exactly crazy about the public works spending President Obama proposes in his $447 billion jobs bill sent to Congress this week, but they are even less enamored with how the president wants to pay for it: by ending a slew of tax breaks for wealthy individuals and corporations.

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