WASHINGTON — Republicans and Democrats on Congress’ deficit-reduction supercommittee have resumed face-to-face meetings after more than a week of backbiting and stalemate.
But the 12-member panel is still limping toward a Thanksgiving deadline with no tangible evidence of a potential breakthrough on a debt plan, even after a handful of panel members met Thursday evening in hopes of salvaging the talks as time runs out.
Among those meeting were a core group of lawmakers, including Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., Max Baucus, D-Mont., Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.
The special deficit panel was established under this summer’s budget and debt pact between President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. It was given unusual powers in hopes of producing at least $1.2 trillion in deficit cuts over the coming decade for guaranteed votes in both House and Senate.
Familiar battles over tax increases and cuts to benefit programs continue to hang up the panel, with neither side optimistic about a deal.
“They’ve never really put paper on the table,” Boehner said of Democrats. “It’s very frustrating.”
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., a committee co-chair, countered.
“I believe that we have opened a door to negotiations in these last final hours that if they (Republicans) can come to an agreement on their side on revenue ... we’ll be able to move forward,” she told reporters.
Barring a compromise to reduce deficits by at least $1.2 trillion over a decade, automatic spending cuts of that amount are to begin taking effect in 2013. Lawmakers in both parties, especially defense hawks, say they want to avoid that.
Washington’s lobbying community buzzed Thursday with rumors of a new Democratic offer that would appear to meet the panel’s $1.2 trillion target after borrowing costs. But top officials denied that the offer, featuring $350 billion in tax increases over the coming decade and smaller cuts to benefits programs than earlier Democratic plans, had been proposed officially.
Meanwhile, Boehner warned that he won’t permit savings from winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to pay for President Barack Obama’s jobs spending agenda.
Democrats on the deficit panel proposed last week using war savings to pay for a $300 billion jobs program along the lines Obama wants, plus take steps to protect the upper middle class from the alternative minimum tax and extend financing for doctors who treat Medicare patients.
“I’ve made it pretty clear that those savings that are coming to us as a result of the wind down of the war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan should be banked, should not be used to offset other spending,” Boehner said.
But the Ohio Republican did not address whether war savings could be used to extend expiring tax cuts such as popular business tax breaks or Obama’s expensive proposal to renew payroll tax cuts that expire at the end of December.
Neither side appears to want to be the first to walk away from the bargaining table, particularly given the high hopes that committee members and top congressional leaders have expressed about the panel’s prospects.