Democrats already are panning it as a "super committee" redux, but House Republicans are set to act Tuesday on a bill to establish a new panel of House and Senate members to work out compromises on reopening government and hiking the debt-ceiling.
The move is the latest House GOP effort to illustrate they are willing to sit down and negotiate, even as Speaker John Boehner's office said Tuesday that he'd received a call from President Obama refusing to do so.
"The president called the speaker again today to reiterate that he won't negotiate on a government funding bill or debt limit increase," said Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck.
Obama and Democrats have continued to urge Boehner, R-Ohio, to simply put "clean" bills to restart government funding and allow the nation to keep borrowing on the floor for an up-or down vote, without the policy concessions demanded by Republicans.
As a result, House Republicans have launched their new bicameral committee idea, which one senior Democratic House staffer facetiously referred to as "the Cruz committee," a reference to Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex.
According to a draft of the new bill, the GOP's "Bicameral Working Group on Deficit Reduction and Economic Growth" would be charged with recommending to the full House and Senate: overall levels of discretionary spending for the fiscal year ending on Sept. 30, 2014; changes in the statutory limit on the public debt; and reforms to direct spending programs.
The committee's roster would be comprised of 10 House members, including six Republicans and four to be chosen by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. Boehner would designate a House co-chair. Of the 10 Senate members, six would be Democrats and four will be chosen by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. A Senate co-chair will be selected by Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
The group would first meet no later than the day after its members are appointed. It could not make any recommendation to the full House and Senate unless it receives the support of a majority of the members appointed by both the Speaker and the majority leader of the Senate. It would then have to report those recommendations within three days.
Senate Democrats sounds ambivalent to the idea, and instead reinforce their position when asked whether they'd support such a group. "I think our view is that we will look at any process that will get is to a budget," said Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md. "But we won't do it as long as government is closed or there's a threat that we're not paying our bills."
Senate Republicans did not embrace the idea. Sen Roger Wicker, R-Miss., pointed out that the super committee included a trigger that led to sequestration cuts. Withholding ultimate judgment, Wicker said he'd wait to see what the legislation was before announcing his position.
The bill to establish the committee could be acted on as early as Tuesday. It is expected to be combined under one rule with a separate bill that would allow essential federal personnel to be paid during the shutdown.
"The way to resolve this is to sit down and have a conversation to resolve our differences," Boehner said on Tuesday, a point he has made several times.
But House Democrats reacted swiftly to pan the idea of the new committee – noting that the 2011 deficit-reduction "super committee" was not able to reach any agreement, and that sequestration was the result.
House Democratic Conference Chairman Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., at a news conference Tuesday with other Democrats, continued to demand that Boehner simply put a "clean" spending bill on the House floor to end the shutdown and for lawmakers to do their jobs through normal legislative process.
Becerra himself was a member of the 2011 super committee. As he put it, "There was nothing super about it."
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