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Special group must find $1.5 trillion in budget cuts
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WASHINGTON (AP) — The special panel's goal is lofty: concoct a deal both parties will embrace to slash federal deficits by a mammoth $1.5 trillion or more over the next decade.Yet from the moment House and Senate leaders appoint the 12 members until the 2012 elections, hurricane-force political pressures are going to make it tough to produce anything substantial.All sides will fiercely defend core priorities, Republicans opposing tax increases and defense cuts and Democrats protecting benefits for Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid recipients. Those happen to be exactly where nonpartisan analysts say savings must occur for any serious deficit-cutting package to emerge.The decisions — at least the next big ones — rest with the committee set up by the agreement that defused the debt-limit crisis this week.Every choice will have implications for President Barack Obama's re-election, for Republican hopefuls jockeying to unseat him and for Democrats and Republicans struggling for control of the House and Senate.If the special committee of lawmakers fails to produce a savings plan by Thanksgiving or if Congress rejects it by Christmas, this week's compromise debt limit accord between Obama and Congress will automatically trigger cuts of $1.2 trillion from much of the budget, with half from the military.That would mean "dangerous across-the-board defense cuts that would do real damage to our security, our troops and their families and our ability to protect the nation," Defense Secretary Leon Panetta declared on Wednesday.Here's a map of the road ahead, based on interviews with two dozen lawmakers, aides and lobbyists.APPOINTING COMMITTEE MEMBERSWithin two weeks, Democratic and GOP leaders of the House and Senate will each name three lawmakers to form the new 12-member committee.House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., are sure to name members who will be unquestionably loyal to them and their party's interests.The special committee will need approval by just seven members to send a package to Congress for a vote with no changes allowed. No leader can afford to appoint a wild card who might stray.The leaders have another incentive to name loyalists who follow party orthodoxy: self-preservation.