“We have gone as far as we feel we can go,” Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) said in an appearance Tuesday on CNBC’s “Kudlow Report.” “On balance, we’ve got to make sure we’re helping the economy. There is a legitimate jobs crisis out there.”
The remarks from Hensarling, who along with Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) heads the 12-member panel, come as the joint committee is showing little indication that it is making progress ahead of a deadline a week away.
Democrats were quick to criticize the remarks, arguing that they showed Republicans are not willing to compromise in the debt talks.
“Congressman Hensarling has made clear that it is the Toomey plan or he is walking away from negotiations,” a Democratic aide with knowledge of the supercommittee’s deliberations said, referring to the plan put forth last week by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) on behalf of the panel’s six Republicans.
The aide, who spoke anonymously in order to candidly discuss the negotiations, added that Democrats “are still at the table and want to come to a deal, but Republicans took a big step backward today by rallying around a plan that’s a non-starter.”
Hensarling also said Tuesday night that if the panel fails to come up with a plan by next week, lawmakers would have more than a year to undo the consequences.
“A lot of people don’t realize, $1.2 trillion of deficit reduction is going to happen anyway,” Hensarling said.
The Texas Republican downplayed the impact of a potential failure of the group ahead of its Nov. 23 deadline, noting that Congress would have 13 months to undo the $1.2 trillion across-the-board spending cut that would take effect in January 2013 if the panel does not meet its goal.
“We’d prefer to do it in a smarter fashion, and the $1.2 (trillion), frankly, half of that is aimed at national security. ... So, number one, I would be committed to keeping the $1.2 (trillion),” Hensarling said. “We’ve got 13 months to find a smarter way to do it. I think the cuts that are aimed at defense frankly go too far. But this is a very important point that you make: if the $1.5 (trillion) isn’t met, there’s a $1.2 (trillion) backstop right there.”
Members of leadership have taken varied stances on what Congress should do if the supercommittee fails. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Tuesday that he would not vote to undo the across-the-board cuts if the committee fails, and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) earlier said that he felt “morally bound” to uphold the reductions. President Obama, too, has said he would strong oppose an effort to undo the spending cut agreement.
Others, including Hensarling and some GOP defense hawks, have made the case for a longer congressional effort to re-work the across-the-board cut, a process that could extend well into 2012.