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Gloom around deficit-reduction panel grows

Even as a bipartisan 'gang of 147' lawmakers gathers to urge a far-reaching deal, the impasse on the 12-member 'super committee' intensifies.

November 16, 2011|By Lisa Mascaro, Washington Bureau
  • Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) gestures as he and other lawmakers from both parties urge the congressional "super committee" on deficit reduction to find a far-reaching compromise.
Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) gestures as he and other lawmakers from both parties… (Jonathan Ernst, Reuters )

Reporting from Washington — The stalemate in the congressional "super committee" over raising taxes hardened Wednesday, dimming prospects for a deficit-reduction deal even as an unusual "gang of 147" lawmakers urged the panel to compromise and strike a grand budget bargain.

Democrats and Republicans from both chambers gathered to lend rare bipartisan support for a deal on taxes and spending.

"Super committee, we've got your back," said Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), a leader of past bipartisan deficit-cutting efforts.

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the top Democratic vote-counter in the House, assessed the crowd of lawmakers gathered and said, "We're getting close to having the votes, folks."

But the lawmakers' willingness to set aside partisan differences appeared to do little to break the impasse gripping the 12-member super committee. With just a week remaining before the deadline to vote on a plan, gloomy forecasts began to proliferate.

Republicans have drawn a line over the amount of new taxes they will agree to in exchange for reductions in spending on Medicare and other domestic programs.

GOP negotiators have proposed $250 billion in new tax revenues over 10 years — an offer dismissed by Democrats as insufficient. Initially, Democrats wanted any package to have equal parts spending cuts and new tax revenues, but they more recently dropped that to $400 billion in new taxes.

"I am still hopeful Republicans will see their way to bring to us a real revenue package — and that's what all of us are looking for in terms of fair and balanced," Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the super committee co-chairwoman, said after emerging from a two-hour closed-door meeting with other Democrats. "I hope that they have not walked away."

But the panel's Republican co-chairman, Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas, appeared to toughen the GOP position.

Hensarling said he would consider taxes beyond $250 billion only if Democrats offered a fundamental revamping of Medicare, similar to one proposed by a separate bipartisan deficit-reduction panel and championed by Rep. Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) this year. Earlier, both sides of the super committee seemed to have found consensus on narrower changes to Medicare and other health entitlement programs. Republicans dismissed the Democrats' latest offer because it does not lock in permanent tax breaks on the wealthy that are set to expire next year — in what the GOP views as an unacceptable tax hike.

"I'm willing to look at any offer — I've been waiting since mid-August — any offer that actually reforms our entitlement spending and solves the problem," Hensarling said during a break from back-to-back GOP meetings.

Around the Capitol, the deadlock sparked disputes about which party was to blame for allowing a sweeping deficit-reduction deal to potentially slip away.

Such arguments are sure to intensify in the coming days, as each party prepares to portray the other as unyielding on fiscal issues.

Republicans, in blaming Democrats, complained about President Obama's absence from the discussions. They noted that rising national debt, the issue that launched the formation of the super committee, topped $15 trillion this week.

Democrats pointed to anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, saying he has too much influence over the GOP. Most Republican lawmakers have signed an anti-tax pledge promoted by Norquist's group.

At the same time, outside groups continued to pressure the panel to strike a deal to avoid further risk of destabilizing the economy, especially right before the holiday shopping season. Retailers are worried that failure by the committee could dampen consumer confidence on Black Friday.

Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength, a group formed to resist continued tax breaks for people who make more than $1 million, urged the super committee to reduce deficits by tapping the wealthy. Advocacy groups warned against steep cuts to programs for seniors and others.

Amid the pessimism, some noted that Congress often doesn't reach agreement until the final hours before a deadline. The super committee has until Nov. 23 to vote. However, it's required to post its proposal internally by Monday night.

"We have time," said Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.). "People of good faith can come together and find an ability to get a fair — I think the word 'fair' is really important — a fair agreement that works for the American people, works for our economy and shows that America can lead in making tough decisions."

lisa.mascaro@latimes.com

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