So what's left?
Lots of things that promise to irritate people while doing little to curb the deficit. But as the saying goes, "a billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you're talking real money."
A compromise proposal sure to anger airlines and their passengers alike would double from $2.50 to $5 the fee per nonstop flight, meaning that the price of a typical roundtrip ticket would rise $5. It would raise $1 billion a year.
There's a longstanding proposal to raise prescription drug copayments for active duty and retired military and to require some to use a mail order program for drugs to treat chronic conditions.
Cutting farm subsidies and food stamps also is being eyed as an alternative to the automatic, across-the-board spending cuts in January. Members of the House and Senate Agriculture committees are struggling to reach a deal on comprehensive farm bill before the end of the year. Even if they do, the potential 10-year saving are not that great: between $23 billion and $35 billion, including $4 billion to $16 billion in food stamp cuts.
Efforts to stem losses by the Postal Service by allowing it to cut Saturday delivery and close facilities seem like even more of a long shot, even though the administration proposed last year to claim $16 billion through such postal changes. A Senate-passed bill doesn't generate that much savings.
Democrats oppose GOP ideas like curbing student loan subsidies, cutting food stamps and blocking illegal immigrants from claiming refundable child tax credits. Republicans, meanwhile, are anxious about requiring uniformed military to pay more toward their pensions.
Those taking a cautious view say that the roster of proposals â¿¿ though not as controversial as, say, cuts to Medicare â¿¿ can be maddeningly complicated.
During the supercommittee, this was supposed to be the part everyone agreed to, recalls the aide to the GOP member. The aide spoke only on condition of anonymity â¿¿ not authorized to speak publicly and candidly about the panel's work, virtually all of it secret.