Debt supercommittee getting nowhere fast

U.S. Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) participates in a news conference on the jobs report, Nov. 4, 2011 in Washington, DC. Getty

WASHINGTON - The Republican co-chair of a committee in charge of slashing the nation's deficit called deliberations a "roller coaster ride" and gave no indication that a deal could be struck before the panel's Nov. 23 deadline.

Texas Rep. Jeb Hensarling said Sunday the panel will fail unless Democrats agree to significant "structural" changes to entitlement programs like Medicare — the government health care program that primarily benefits the elderly — and Social Security, the government retirement program.

When asked whether that could be done in a matter of days, he said "we haven't given up hope."

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The supercommittee was created as part of a hard-fought deal between President Obama and lawmakers. It has until Nov. 23 to agree on how to reduce the deficit by at least $1.2 trillion in the next decade. Any amount less than that would be made up in automatic across-the-board cuts divided evenly between defense and domestic programs.

The panel has been stymied for weeks over taxes. Democrats want to raise revenue by making tax code changes that directly add money to government coffers. Republicans have agreed to increase government revenue, but are demanding large cuts to benefit programs, which they say are bleeding Americans dry.

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Both sides have blamed the other for failing to move forward. Last week, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said that Obama has told panel members that their finished product must contain both sources of new revenue, or taxes, as well as spending cuts.

At a news conference at the Asia-Pacific economic summit in Hawaii Sunday, Obama said he hopes lawmakers will "bite the bullet and do what needs to be done," but voiced frustration with what he said was a desire by some members of Congress to "want to keep jiggering the math" to get a different outcome.

The president refused to say whether he would veto any effort to bypass the deep cuts in defense and other spending that would take effect if there is no deal forthcoming from Congress.

Hensarling offered no new talking points Sunday, indicating that the two sides remain far from reaching consensus.

"We want more revenues. We just want to raise it by growing the economy," he said.

Likewise, Democratic panel member Rep. James Clyburn offered no hint that a real compromise was in the works.

"We've got 10 days to do this, and I really believe that all of the ingredients for a good resolution are there. We just need to build the will," said Clyburn. At the same time, Clyburn accused Republicans of wanting to cut a billionaire's tax bill by $300,000 while eliminating Medicare for people on a fixed income.

Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican member of the committee, defended his latest proposal as one that would get the economy moving again. Toomey and other Republicans want to generate at least $250 billion in new revenue by limiting tax deductions but only if Democrats agree to drop the top tax rate from 35 percent to 28 percent.

"You absolutely can do this in a way that will be pro-growth, that will generate more revenue, (and) that would avoid this huge tax increase that's coming otherwise," Toomey said.

Democrats have rejected the idea as something that will ultimately cost more than it would save, and called for a mix of $1 trillion in spending cuts and $1 trillion in higher tax revenue over the next decade.

Sen. Mark Warner, a Democrat who supports entitlement and tax reform, suggested that politics was the biggest culprit in preventing a deal.

"You'll know this supercommittee is getting close when folks on both ends of the political extreme scream the loudest, because that will show that there's actually movement being made," he said.

Republican Sen. Tom Coburn, a vocal opponent of any tax increase, said he could stand the idea of increasing government revenues if the money comes from restructuring entitlement programs.

"I want to tell you, we're going to touch Medicare because there's no way we can borrow the money five years from now to run Medicare the way it is today," he said. "The question really is, will politicians do what is best for the country or best for their party and position?"

Hensarling, Warner and Coburn spoke on CNN's "State of the Union." Toomey and Clyburn spoke on "Fox News Sunday."

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