Pessimism pervades as clock ticks on supercommittee deal
The congressman's comments reflect a growing sense of pessimism among Republicans and Democrats about the possibility that the bipartisan 12-person committee will come to a deal before the Thanksgiving deadline. If no deal is reached, $1.2 trillion is set to be automatically cut from defense and domestic spending in 2013 - an alternative which was designed to serve as an incentive for compromise, and which both parties say they want to avoid.
The two parties appear as far apart as ever on a compromise, with the main sticking point being the inclusion of significant revenue increases as part of the deficit reduction package.
In a weekly press briefing Thursday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi stressed that a package that does not include tax increases is "a place that we cannot go."
"If the plan is to extend the Bush tax cuts and to repeal the Medicare guarantee for our seniors, well that's not balanced and that's a place that we cannot go," Pelosi told reporters. She that "revenue seems to be the rub for the Republicans" and said she did not want to see the triggers go into effect.
"I don't want that to happen. We have been working very hard for it not to - let me remind, we have already cut $1.2 trillion since the summer," she said. "...I think there is a better way to do it than the sequestration [trigger], but the sequestration is part of the legislation, and that's what we will follow. But there is a better way and I'm still optimistic."
Pelosi suggested, however, that Republicans are more beholden to conservative activist Grover Norquist's pledge not to raise taxes than the oath of their office.
"There are those, maybe some who think who have suggested that the oath to Mr. Norquist is more important than other oaths that members take," she added, referring to a pledge that 238 House Republicans have signed promising not to raise taxes.
Democrats have rejected a Republican plan put forth on November 7 that would have lowered tax rates for all income levels in exchange for limiting some key deductions, which Republicans say would bring $250-300 billion into the Treasury. The plan would also make permanent the tax cuts enacted under President George W. Bush. Democrats have adamantly opposed making those tax cuts permanent, and say doing so would add $4 trillion to the deficit.
House Speaker John Boehner blasted Democrats Thursday for failing to publicly put forth a proposal for a deal, contending that "there has been exactly one proposal on the table in the committee and that proposal came from the six Republican members - House and Senate - where it was outlined what we would be willing to do."
"There have been discussions amongst individual members, but it's very clear to me there has never been a Democrat position - not one time have they coalesced around a plan that will address this issue," Boehner said.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wa., the Democratic co-chair of the supercommittee, maintained Thursday that Democrats were willing to work with Republicans but that "I would hope that is a way for them to understand that...they need to compromise too."
"We have made it clear that we are willing to meet their offer but it has to be in a way that is fair to working families and puts our country back to work," she said. "That's the task that we have at hand. I would hope that that is a way for them to understand that they need to compromise, too, and come back to us and reach a deal, which is critically important today. But I think the challenge is that they have to resolve the differences on their side, on revenue. And that's what we're waiting for."
"I believe we have opened a door to negotiations in these last, final hours, that if they can come to an agreement on their side on revenue, that we'll be able to move forward," she added.
Republican Rep. Jeb Hensarling said Thursday he was "unaware of any offer or any idea from any Democrat that did not include a minimum of a trillion dollars more of taxes."
And as the deadline approaches, some members have expressed optimism that, even if a deal is not reached, Congress could reconsider the sequestration.
Committee member Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., said on Fox News this weekend that "in the very, very unfortunate event that we don't [reach a deal], I think it's very likely that Congress would reconsider the configuration of that sequestration, and consider is this really the best way to do it?"
Hensarling suggested that the triggers could be avoided by agreeing to a broad framework for an agreement and then delegating the details to yet another committee.
"Yes, there could be a two-step process that would hopefully give us pro-growth tax reform," he said Sunday on CNN.
The White House has shot down that possibility, reminding committee members that "the whole idea of the sequester was to make sure that both sides felt obligated to move off rigid positions and do what was required to help the country."
Boehner said that "I've had my fair share of meetings over the last eight or nine weeks" about the deficit reduction deal, but suggested that he was not yet ready to step in and take over the negotiations.
"The leaders created this, and frankly think the leaders have some responsibility to help the committee succeed - and that's what we have been doing," he said. "You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink. And the problem that we've had all year is getting to yes. We've never gotten the Democrats, whether it's the White House or where we are today, we have never gotten them to a point where there was yes. They never really put paper on the table."
"It's very frustrating," he added.
Pelosi, meanwhile, seemed less than optimistic that the committee would be able to put together a deal that would be acceptable to Democrats.
"Democrats continue to be committed to big, bold and balanced in terms of a proposal that could come out of there," she said Thursday. "I don't know if it can be as big and bold as I like, but I hope that it will be balanced - because that will be the only way that we will be able to reach agreement."
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