Lawmakers who are negotiating a bipartisan deficit-reduction plan with Vice President Joe Biden met on Wednesday for three hours and are set to meet on Thursday and possibly again Friday as they ramp up efforts to get an agreement in principle ahead a self-imposed July 1 deadline.
“It went fine,” said House Budget Committee ranking member Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., of Wednesday’s meeting.
"We’re dealing with very difficult issues,” Van Hollen continued. “I think the good news is that we’re still around the table. No one has bolted out of the room. Everyone is there, everyone is focused around the goal. The question is can we bridge our differences?”
Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., said the group was “making progress” but declined to say anything further.
Van Hollen said Thursday’s meeting is expected to include talk of the use of triggers, which are typically limits on debt, spending, or the deficit that once breached would activate automatic, severe spending cuts. The idea is to force congressional action to avoid breaching the triggers.
Differences remain over how the mechanism would work. Democrats are pushing for a deficit trigger so that taxes can be used to lower the deficit, while Republicans are calling for a spending trigger because they oppose using taxes to reduce the deficit.
“We’re to work [Thursday], we’re going to be here Friday, I think; we’re going to keep working at it until we get an agreement in principle, or reach a conclusion that we can’t bridge our differences. We aren’t at either of those points yet,” Van Hollen said.
Wednesday’s meeting came after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said that he has suggested to Biden including stimulus measures in the deficit-reduction package. Reid declined to say what he recommended.
One possibility could be a payroll tax break. The White House has spoken favorably in recent weeks about exploring the idea of extending a current payroll tax holiday for employees and proposing a payroll tax cut for employers.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., a member of the Biden group, did not give his position on Reid’s idea. He said that the entire goal of the Biden group is to boost the economy by reducing the deficit and debt, which he believes would help the private sector create jobs.
“All of this is about trying to get the economy growing again, that’s it,” Cantor said. “We’ve got a lot of options on the table right now, but we’ve got to try to get spending under control.”
Meanwhile, a coalition of more than 40 conservative public-policy and advocacy groups, including FreedomWorks and the Club for Growth, unveiled a debt-ceiling pledge for lawmakers and candidates to sign, in which they would promise not to support a debt-limit increase without spending cuts, enforceable spending caps, and congressional passage of a balanced-budget amendment.
So far 11 senators, 14 House members, and 16 candidates for the Senate, House, and presidency have signed the pledge.
Signatories include libertarian favorite Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, who is seeking the GOP nomination for president, and Rep. Joe Walsh, R-Ill., one of the 87 GOP House freshmen intent on reducing the deficit.
Katy O'Donnell and Ben Terris contributed.