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Super Committee Struggles With Deficit Endgame

Super Committee Struggles With Deficit Endgame

By Alexis Simendinger - November 18, 2011

“It’s tougher than you think,” said Rep. Xavier Becerra, a Democrat from California, as he exited another super committee meeting Thursday afternoon.

The good news was that lawmakers were still talking as a Nov. 23 deadline approached. The bad news was that Democrats were huddled with themselves in the Capitol and not with the opposing party, while Republicans were dug in elsewhere. Each side taunted the other across acres of cold marble, quarreling about the meaning of “balance” when it comes to $1.2 trillion in future deficit reduction. Would balance be defined as 50-50 between spending cuts and tax hikes? Sixty-forty? Some now and some later?

“If the plan is to extend the Bush tax cuts [after the election] and to repeal the Medicare guarantee for our seniors, well, that's not balanced and that's a place we cannot go,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi vowed during a morning news conference at the Capitol.

“We're going to do this in a fiscally sound way,” Speaker John Boehner said moments later in the same room. Hinting that House and Senate leaders are likely to get more publicly involved in the drama this weekend and beyond, the Ohio Republican added, “I think the leaders have some responsibility to help the committee succeed. And that's what we've been doing.”

The two parties initially sounded more hostile than ever to compromise on Thursday, and Boehner and Pelosi intensified their partisan talking points. Those arguments -- that the middle class should not balance the budget without demanding tax hikes from the rich (Democrats), and tax increases hurt the economy and kill jobs (Republicans) -- will be heard again on weekend talk shows leading into the busy Thanksgiving week. But behind the scenes Thursday, discussions continued about potential puzzle pieces for a deal.

“We’re trying to address the concern that Republicans have and trying to show them that we’re willing to try to come up with a solution that meets them -- where they’re willing to go -- to try to come up with a solution,” Becerra told reporters.

Democrats have discussed raising $1 trillion in revenue by getting rid of certain loopholes in the tax code and altering corporate taxes. They have said they are willing to cut $1 trillion in both discretionary and mandatory spending. That could include $200 billion from defense and $350 billion from Medicare providers, Democrats have said.

Republicans have offered to cut $1.2 trillion from future deficits, of which about $776 billion would come from spending cuts. Republicans have also offered about $250 billion in new revenues in exchange for permanently extending the Bush-era tax cuts, and lowering the highest tax bracket on the wealthy from 39.6 percent to 28 percent.

On Thursday afternoon, Sen. Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat and a co-chair of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, told reporters that her colleagues on the panel “believe we have opened the door to negotiations in these last final hours." Pointing to divisions among Republicans about how to handle the politically divisive notion of raising revenues at any point in the future, Murray said, “If they can come to an agreement on their side on revenue, then we will be able to move forward."

Monday could be a different negotiating day entirely, as the super committee confronts a preliminary deadline of Nov. 21 to agree on a set of recommendations by a simple majority. On that day, the panel must hand its ideas to the Congressional Budget Office for a green-eyeshade examination before Congress can vote on any 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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