(J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on Tuesday said that he is “hopeful” the bipartisan debt-reduction supercommittee will succeed in its mission to shave at least $1.2 trillion from the country’s debt over the next decade.

But the No. 2 House Democrat stopped short of calling himself “confident” that such a deal will be reached, telling reporters at his weekly pen-and-pad briefing that he hopes the panel will complete its task because it is imperative for the country’s economic well-being.

“As all of you know, I feel very strongly that the most important thing we’re doing over the next two months is trying to come up with a successful compromise, an agreement between the parties with respect to reducing the deficit. ... I’m hopeful that the committee will get there,” Hoyer said.

Asked why he was confident that the panel would succeed, Hoyer responded: “Did I say I was confident? ... Hopeful is not confident.”

“People ask me, ‘Are you optimistic?’” he continued. “I say, ‘Look, I’m not optimistic. I’m hopeful.’ I hope because I think it’s absolutely essential that we do so, that we succeed in producing a product that is a big deal, not a small deal. If we do a small deal, we’re going to have to revisit that.”

Hoyer’s remarks come as the 12-member panel is inching closer to its Nov. 23 deadline with few signs that it is making any progress toward its goal. House Republican Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling (Texas), one of the co-chairs of the joint committee, said earlier Tuesday that he believed the panel had “plenty of time to do what we need to do.”

Earlier this month, the supercommittee held a closed-door meeting at which members heard from the “Gang of Six,” the bipartisan group of senators who during the summer drafted a broad plan to achieve nearly $4 trillion in deficit savings. Hoyer reiterated Tuesday that he hoped the supercommittee would keep “everything on the table” and pursue such a “big deal,” noting that previous deficit-reduction commissions have all recommended proposals in the $4 trillion range.

But then as now, there remains a major impasse between the parties when it comes to taxes and entitlement reform — the two issues on which neither party’s leadership appears willing to budge.