The super committee is embryonic, but after the last 48 hours all sides seem ready to read their eulogies for the panel.
Besieged with admonishments and advice, including dictums and directives, from President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction retreated on Tuesday afternoon into its longest private session so far.
Hope for some great Solomonic ending to this drama may be yet be possible.
But it’s clear that this bipartisan panel of 12 lawmakers can’t possibly meet all the diametrically opposed demands of their party leaders and others. That is impossible, especially now that the panel’s task of recommending to Congress in two months at least $1.2 trillion in budgetary savings has become even more politically charged.
Obama upped that ante on Monday by asserting from the White House Rose Garden that he would block any vote by Congress if it carries out a plan that depends solely on spending cuts, instead of a blend of tax increases on the wealthy. His plan also would leave out reforms to the Social Security pension program altogether.
Boehner, of course, has urged that the panel focus on cuts to spending and entitlement programs.
And that’s just the two top party leaders. Committee members with their own expectations and preferences are being pummeled by demands from other lawmakers, lobbyists, and countless others, ranging from urgings that there be no defense cuts to insistence that copayments for home health-care visits not be sliced.
Panel members emerged from their private meeting after two and a half hours to say little more than that they understand the “gravity” of their task and that they had talked about a wide range of issues.
No matter what Democrats on the super committee say, Republicans on the panel—or in the House or Senate—will block any move to increase tax revenue. Democrats, now backed by a presidential veto threat, will not accept cuts affecting entitlement beneficiaries if the GOP won’t budge on taxes.
That leaves the committee with basically two choices—accept a stalemate, or settle on what one senior aide to a committee member called a “half-a-loaf” or less plan, where they recommend perhaps $400 billion to $600 billion in untapped savings identified this year in talks led by Vice President Joe Biden.
Panel Democrats, according to three aides familiar with committee deliberations, understand this problem.
But with Democratic leaders like Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., touting Obama’s deficit-reduction plan as a marker that will frame the 2012 election and put the GOP on defense, Democrats will continue to insist that committee Republicans consider raising tax revenue.
That’s not because the argument will prevail, but because they hope it will help drive home to voters the point that GOP intransigence is hobbling the super committee, just as it hobbled past high-level talks on deficit reduction.
Committee Democrats thus might pursue a dual strategy: publicly urging their counterparts to consider revenue increases while privately considering whether to accept complete stalemate or recommend cuts that may total less than $1.2 trillion, prompting automatic other cuts to defense and nondefense programs to make up for the shortfall.
But Republicans already may be anticipating this strategy. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said on Tuesday that he continues to hope the committee will reach agreement on the full level of required cuts. “If the president says no entitlement reform now, we believe strongly you don’t want to try and address the federal deficit crisis by raising taxes, which makes it more difficult to address the jobs crisis. Fine. Let’s go about the kind of work we did,” said Cantor of the Biden working group.
Katy O’Donnell contributed contributed to this article.
This article appears in the September 21, 2011, edition of NJ Daily.