House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on Tuesday praised the latest offer put forward by Republicans on the debt “supercommittee” but argued that by proposing to extend the Bush-era tax cuts, the plan goes too far “in the wrong direction” on revenues.
“I think it was a very positive sign that Republicans put revenues on the table, but I agree with (House Assistant Democratic Leader James) Clyburn: They put $300 billion on and took $800 billion off,” Hoyer, the No. 2 House Democrat, told reporters at his weekly pen-and-pad briefing. “That’s not a very positive direction to go. You’re going a half-a-trillion dollars in the wrong direction in that deal.”
Hoyer’s remarks came as the bipartisan 12-member panel faces mounting pressure, with a deadline looming a little over a week away.
Republicans have argued that their proposal last week on the “supercommittee” was significant in that it marked the first time GOP lawmakers have been willing to accept a deal including new revenues. Some Democrats hailed the move as a “breakthrough,” but most have panned the offer as including only a token amount of new revenue in exchange for extending the Bush-era tax cuts.
In recent days, two of the House Democrats on the panel — Clyburn and Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) — have signaled that members of their party on the panel are not unified behind a single plan, even as a majority of the supercommittee Democrats put forth a deal earlier this month.
Asked Tuesday about where House Democrats stand in the debt talks, Hoyer acknowledged that members of his party are “certainly not speaking with one voice” but that Democrats, “in my view, largely want to see this committee succeed.”
“The president of the United States wants to see this committee succeed,” Hoyer said. “And I’m not preparing any message for blame. Blame will be somewhat irrelevant if the committee does not succeed, because the adverse consequences to the economy — both domestically and internationally — will be significant. I want to see this committee succeed.”
If the supercommittee fails to draft a plan by its Nov. 23 deadline, a $1.2 trillion across-the-board cut will take effect in January 2013 — an outcome that Hoyer argued Tuesday “is not an option.”
“As an appropriator, I think across-the-board cuts are irrational and bad policy,” he said. “I don’t think sequestration is an option, and the leader does not believe that either. (House Minority Leader Nancy) Pelosi and I absolutely agree on this issue; sequestration is not an option.”
Even if the bipartisan panel does succeed in reporting out a plan, that’s only one-third of the battle: the proposal would still need to be approved by both chambers of Congress before Dec. 23, a daunting task considering that members are under pressure to draft a deal that takes on both parties’ sacred cows, such as tax and entitlement reform. Leaders are of varying opinions on whether the House and Senate will be able to pass whatever deal the supercommittee comes up with.
For Republicans, the difficulty will likely be garnering enough votes for a deal that conservatives may balk at as not cutting spending deeply enough and as going too far in including new revenues. For Democrats, the difficulty may be in winning support for a proposal that reforms Medicare and Medicaid, programs that many lawmakers have pledged not to change. There’s also the fact that on the August vote on the debt-ceiling deal that created the “supercommittee,” House Democrats were evenly split — 95 voted “yes” while another 95 voted “no.”
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters Tuesday morning that he is “convinced that if, in fact, there is an agreement, that it can in fact pass.” Hoyer at his pen-and-pad voiced similar confidence that the House will pass any deal that the supercommittee comes up with.
“I believe that the supercommittee can get a report done in a timely fashion that does in fact move us very substantially in the direction we need to move to bring our fiscal posture to a sustainable path,” Hoyer said.
If such a deal is reached, “the answer is yes, I think we can get the votes,” he added.
On how the three House Democrats on the supercommittee might vote, Hoyer said he believed the trio is “working as a team” but declined to speculate further.
“I think there are differences of opinion as would not surprise you,” he said. “I believe Mr. Van Hollen and Mr. Clyburn and Mr. Becerra are all working toward a big deal, the $4 trillion objective, and I think in the end, you will find unity — strike that. You will find a majority of them supporting a bigger package.”