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Congressional leaders jump in to save 'super committee'

In an effort to end the deadlock on deficit reductions, party leaders, especially on the Republican side, are meeting behind closed doors with members of the panel.

November 05, 2011|By Lisa Mascaro, Washington Bureau
  • House Speaker John A. Boehner, left, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
House Speaker John A. Boehner, left, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch… (Pablo Martinez Monsivais…)

Reporting from Washington — Congressional leaders are trying to reverse the deadlock that has befallen the deficit "super committee" in much the same way the panel has operated: behind closed doors.

The logjam is a familiar one that has doomed past budget battles. Republicans refuse to raise taxes to reduce deficits and Democrats are unwilling to carve deeply into Medicare and other entitlements unless the GOP gives on revenues.

Most of the scramble in recent days appeared to be coming from the Republican side, where House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have holed up with Republican super committee members in the Capitol.

Democrats insist that they have put a fair offer on the table, proposing tax increases but also sizable reductions to Medicare, Medicaid and other programs — potential cuts that have drawn criticism from the party's liberal base. The ball, Democrats say, is in the GOP court.

Republicans have proposed raising some revenue by selling assets and growing the economy, but rely primarily on budget cuts to balance the books. They refuse to tax millionaires or wealthier households that Democrats insist must pay their fair share toward the nation's deficit problems. Republicans say it is up to Democrats to make the next move.

Boehner recently told reporters his greatest regret this year, his first as speaker, was that he and President Obama were unable to reach a similar deficit deal this summer.

"It's the same conversation that's been going on all year," Boehner said.

"They want more revenue than what we're willing to give and they're not willing to do as much entitlement reform as we'd like to do," Boehner told reporters Thursday in his office suite. "There clearly is a limit to the revenues that may be available."

Failure to reach a compromise by Thanksgiving to slash $1.5 trillion from the nation's deficits over the next decade could send shock waves through the fragile economy, as happened during the summer debt ceiling standoff. Failure would also trigger automatic budget cuts that both parties want to avoid.

The GOP's struggles come as greater scrutiny is being leveled at the influence anti-tax activist Grover Norquist has on the Republican Party. Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform has secured a pledge against new taxes from most Republican members of Congress. Lawmakers are reluctant to cross him for fear of being targeted by primary challenges in the 2012 election.

Norquist's view, and that of the pledge, is a conservative approach to tax policy: Even closing a tax loophole that both sides agree should end must be matched by a comparable tax cut — rather than allowing the new revenue to go toward deficit reduction. Norquist argues that more revenue only fuels more spending.

But 100 members of the House — including 40 Republicans, many of whom have signed the pledge — began the process of peeling away this week from that position. They urged the super committee to go beyond its mandate and put all options on the table.

Thirty-three GOP senators swiftly shot back, reinforcing that no new tax revenues should be part of the deal.

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