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Distrust, Anxiety Rise as Super Committee Clock Ticks Down

Distrust, Anxiety Rise as Super Committee Clock Ticks Down

By Alexis Simendinger - November 16, 2011

The political clash on Capitol Hill about the role and scope of government will continue no matter what the deficit-cutting congressional super committee does or fails to do by next week.

President Obama, now out of the country, will return to Washington next week before the committee’s Nov. 23 deadline and decide how he will proceed if an ideologically divided Congress remains at loggerheads, unwilling to trust him or one another.

In a coordinated refrain, congressional Republicans and their aides beckoned the president Tuesday to become more involved in crafting a deal. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., a member of the Senate leadership, said the super committee of 12 House and Senate members is “hopefully winding up their work, and with very little input from the White House on this. It would appear at least that the president is not particularly interested in seeing a result. We certainly are. We think it's the right thing for the American people.”

Thune’s theme was echoed by other Republicans Tuesday and was seen as an effort to shift blame when or if the super committee fails to reach an agreement to blend revenue-raisers and spending cuts to achieve $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years. Also awaiting a congressional accord are extensions of the current payroll tax break for employees, and unemployment insurance, both of which are set to expire.

Congressional Republicans privately complained of chronic distrust between the two parties as the super committee deadline loomed. Conservatives taunted Obama to dive in with the budget specifics he is willing to sign, even as they complained he’s less interested in helping the economy than in bludgeoning Congress as a way to lift his flagging job approval numbers.

“If the president, who is now at 43 percent in the polls, thinks he can win next year by running against Congress while making the economy worse, someone is smoking crack,” said one GOP aide.

Republicans asked for more fanfare from Democrats and the media for offering to raise revenues last week as part of the deficit negotiations. Conservatives have tentatively blessed a $1.2 trillion plan designed by Sen. Pat Toomey (pictured), R-Pa., that envisioned $700 billion in spending cuts and $500 billion in new revenues over 10 years, including $250 billion in tax “reform.” The offer to close loopholes and raise taxes was conceived as a GOP shield against criticism that the party was more interested in protecting special interests and the wealthy than the struggling middle class. Republicans complained that as soon as Toomey put his ideas on the negotiating table, Democrats leaped to give the details to reporters as evidence of weakening inside the GOP ranks.

“Republicans have put revenues on the table,” Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., told reporters Tuesday. “Anyone who knows and understands the Republican Party knows that the proposal that was made last week by the Republican members of the super committee represents a substantial departure from what we'd normally be comfortable voting for. And the only reason we're doing that,” he added, “is because the government is borrowing 40 cents out of every dollar it spends, and that's got to stop. And in exchange for real entitlement reform, we're ready to do some things we normally would not do.”

Republican lawmakers said they want to see a counter-offer from Democrats that would include concessions on entitlements.

The Democrats on the joint committee last week put forward a $2.3 trillion deficit-cutting plan that included $400 billion in entitlement reforms and $1 trillion in new revenues.

Democratic lawmakers and their aides continued to argue that Republicans are not negotiating in earnest and simply hope to lash Obama to the mast as the congressional negotiations founder. They predicted that the president will continue to encourage Congress to do its work right up to the deadline, and leave it to House and Senate leaders to step in as mediators for any sort of deal or fallback plan.

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Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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