How do you break the partisan impasse on the supercommittee? Start by cracking a few jokes.
“I wasn’t alive early in your career,” the 61-year-old Idaho Republican told Hoyer, age 72.
“This is the kind of comment that undermines cooperation in the Congress of the United States!” Hoyer responded, chuckling.
The Maryland Democrat then turned to introduce Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss to reporters as “my fraternity brother” — both were in Sigma Chi — as yet another bond that defied party affiliation. “The public doesn’t believe that we can work across the aisle,” Hoyer said. “But our national debt is our biggest national security threat. That’s why we all stand here on this podium,” he continued.
It was a rare display of bipartisan collegiality at a moment when partisanship has once again threatened to derail the efforts to pass big legislation in the face of a looming deadline. Flanked by members from both chambers and both parties, Hoyer and his colleagues held a pep rally of sorts for the supercommittee, urging them to “go big” — producing a “grand bargain” of at least $4 trillion in deficit reduction, which most see as the least politically likely option — while promising their unwavering support for any deal the group can produce.
“I’m proud to stand here today and say, supercommittee, we got your back. We support you, we look forward to working with you no matter which course you take,” said Chambliss, moments after thanking his “good friend Steny Hoyer.”
Sen. Dick Durbin carried on with the cheerleading. “We stand behind you, we want you to succeed, we’ll do everything we can to support you,” he proclaimed. “This is historic and worth the political risk, if we stand together and lock arms together ... there may not be another chance.”
The legislators at the packed press conference certainly ran the gamut, politically speaking, ranging from conservative stalwart Sen. Lamar Alexander to Rep. Peter Welch, the progressive Vermonter. Hoyer and others pointed out that some 100 House members had signed a letter urging the supercommittee to “go big,” along with some 50 members of the Senate.
Little at Wednesday’s event, however, suggested a new path forward for the supercommittee itself, where negotiations have stalled over the question of revenue and any bargain — much less a “grand bargain” — has seemed increasingly unlikely. When asked about staunch GOP opposition to tax increases, Simpson acknowledged that some Republicans “personally” didn’t support raising taxes but maintained that his party was still willing to negotiate over the issue. “We are ready to make the compromises and build the solutions that can help bring all the parties together.” His remarks, however, fly in the face of comments that supercommittee co-chairman Rep. Jeb Hensarling made just last night that ruled out any new tax revenue whatsoever.
In truth, there’s not much that most legislators outside the supercommittee may be able to do at this point but try to cheer (or jeer) the group’s efforts from the sidelines. And the supercommittee’s bipartisan cheerleaders seem determined to keep their spirits up, exchanging back pats right as the press conference was dispersing. “Great job,” one legislator was heard saying to another, picked up by the podium’s microphone. “I think that was great.”