Even as leaders of Congress' special deficit reduction supercommittee worked to assure the public that the panel’s private negotiations remain productive, there was little sign Thursday that the panel had broken an impasse over taxes that has divided the group.
In separate comments, supercommittee chairman Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) each praised the 12 members of the panel—from both sides of the aisle—for constructive talks over ways to bridge a partisan gap over how to cut at least $1.2 trillion from the nation’s debt over the next decade.
The panel faces a Nov. 23 deadline for coming up with a strategy or else budgets will face automatic across-the-board cuts equaling to $1.2 trillion, a result thought to be devastating by many in both parties.
“Every member of our committee is really working in every way to try to get this done, “Murray told reporters Thursday.
“I still believe they have negotiated in good faith, but there are significant differences that still have to be resolved, and it upsets many Americans that we have yet to reach agreement,” Hensarling said, according to the Wall Street Journal.
But neither chairman suggested the two sides have moved. Hensarling said Republicans had made “significant concessions” and now await a similar move by Democrats. Murray said Democrats continue to wait for a “balanced, fair” proposal.
The impasse remains despite an offer from the panel’s Republicans earlier this week to raise $350 billion in new taxes by capping some deductions--while also making the Bush tax cuts permanent.
Democrats believe that level of revenue is not sufficient to justify deep spending cuts elsewhere or broad entitlement reforms. Earlier this week, Democrats recommended a plan to cut the deficit by $2.3 trillion, including $1 trillion in new taxes, which Republicans reject as too high.
Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), another member of the panel, called talks “on-going” and said he planned to remain in Washington for more talks. He characterized the discussions as “positive.”
“There are some ideas,” he said.
Other members of Congress have watched the stalled process with anxiety.
Meanwhile, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), a member of the so-called Gang of Six senators who presented their own deficit reduction plan that included new revenues, said there may be a bipartisan effort to pressure the committee not to give up on getting a grand bargain that would pair entitlement reform with new taxes.
He said there could be a joint effort with bipartisan members of the House next week.
“We want them to feel like we’ve got their back,” he said. “There is a lot of support for the committee in both houses.”
But Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) said Thursday that he was “very uncomfortable” that Republicans on the panel have proposed tax increases as part of a possible solution.
“To accept any net tax increases is to ignore the fact that we have a spending problem, not a revenue problem,” he said.
Murray also defended the panel Thursday from on-going criticisms that the group’s work has been too opaque.
The group has held all of its negotiating sessions behind closed doors and proposals from each side become public only when leaked by staff or members.
On the “Daily Show with Jon Stewart” Wednesday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) urged the group to make its talks public.
“Now, what we should say to the 12 people on the supercommmittee: Get in a room, sit down, reach agreement on public television,” she said.
But Murray said the committee needed “open, frank” conversations to work.
“At the end of the day everyone will be able to debate any product that this committee comes out with and there will be time to do that,” she said.