Debt supercommittee has ‘plenty of time’ to complete its work, Hensarling says


(J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

The co-chairman of Congress’s bipartisan debt-reduction committee said Tuesday that the panel has more than enough time to complete its work, even as a deadline looms less than a month away.

“I remain encouraged that the members of the joint select committee know how serious the situation is,” Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) told reporters Tuesday morning at a news conference with other members of House Republican leadership. “I believe they are all committed to achieving the goal, and before the stroke of midnight on November 22nd, we still have plenty of time to do what we need to do.”

The 12-member panel, known formally as the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, has until Thanksgiving to draft a plan that would shave at least $1.2 trillion from the country’s debt over the next decade. If the committee fails, then a $1.2 trillion across-the-board spending cut will be enacted to both defense and non-defense spending, an outcome that defense hawks in Congress have vowed to work against.

Hensarling’s remarks come as the debt panel is set to hold its fourth public meeting on Wednesday — and also amid reports that the committee, which over the past two months has conducted most of its work behind closed doors, is struggling to make progress on a plan.

The Congressional Budget Office has previously said it would need to receive the outline of a plan by the end of October if it is to be scored before the committee’s November deadline. That would suggest that Hensarling’s remarks Tuesday morning may have been a tad optimistic.

Also at Tuesday’s news conference, House Republican leaders renewed their call for the Senate to take up “the Forgotten Fifteen,” a reference to a collection of bills passed by the House in recent months and touted by GOP lawmakers as job-creating measures.

The leaders also contended that the House continues to work on jobs measures while the Senate remains deadlocked. One of the main pieces of legislation on the House floor this week is a bill that would repeal the three-percent tax withholding rule for government contracts, a bipartisan measure that House Republicans argue would boost the economy.

But the withholding rule itself is not slated to take effect until 2013, and President Obama in his jobs plan proposed further delaying the rule until 2014.

Asked how eliminating a regulation that has not yet gone into effect might lead to job creation, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) argued that doing away with the rule would reduce uncertainty for small business owners.

“This three-percent withholding has been delayed at least twice, and the fact is it hangs out there like a wet blanket over small businesses who deal with local governments, state governments, the federal government,” Boehner said. “It creates a real problem for all of these government entities who’ve got to find a way to recreate all their software in order to hold back this three percent. It was not thought out very well. The fact is it ought to be repealed and we ought to eliminate some of the uncertainty that’s already out there.”

Boehner also reiterated his opposition to a China currency bill that passed the Senate earlier this month; GOP leaders have declined to bring up for a vote in the House, and the White House has yet to formally declare its position on the bill.

“The China currency issue, I’ve made it perfectly clear how I feel,” Boehner said. “I think it’s very dangerous policy, and the fact is the president of the United States ought to stand up and take a position. The president of the United States gets elected to lead the entire country, and the key point here is to lead. Where is the leadership?”

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