Congress’ supercommittee — the bipartisan, 12-member panel assigned the task of cutting $1.5 trillion from the federal deficit in the next 10 weeks — met for the first time last Thursday, appointed top staff, and took preliminary peeks at alternative combinations of spending reductions and revenue increases that could get them to their goal by Thanksgiving.

Severe cutbacks or elimination of longtime tax preferences as the mortgage interest deduction and local real estate write-offs were on some of the menus that floated into the staff.

For example, the influential, bipartisan private-sector Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget urged members to "go big" and "go long" — well beyond $1.5 trillion — and offered several options on the mortgage interest deduction, including elimination of second-home interest write-offs outright, capping the primary home mortgage interest deduction at $500,000, and turning it into a credit.

Over a 10-year period, the group estimated that by limiting mortgage interest deductions and other itemized write-offs for high earners — presumably those with household incomes above $250,000 or individual incomes above $200,000 — it could knock $250 billion off the deficit.

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