The Washington Post

Leaders skeptical of supercommittee success

(Joshua Roberts/BLOOMBERG)

Congressional leaders are showing more skepticism that the supercommittee will reach a deficit-reduction deal within the next six days. And as members of the bipartisan panel privately huddle — expecting to meet through the weekend -- they are also publicly casting blame on each side in case the group fails to meet its goal.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) acknowledged Thursday that it’s “late in the game”but that he believes members will “continue to work very diligently, because this problem needs to be solved.”

Then he pointed the finger at Democrats, who he argued have yet to unify behind a single proposal in the discussions.

“You need to understand, there’s been exactly one proposal on the table in the committee,” Boehner said. “That proposal came from the six Republicans members from the House and the Senate, where it was outlined what we’d be willing to do. There have been discussions among individual members, but its very clear to me that there’s never been a Democrat position. Not one. Not one time have they coalesced around a plan that will address this issue.”

Heading out of a morning meeting of the Democrats on the panel, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) dismissed Boehner’s statement, arguing that “the Democrats are in complete agreement.”

“We have met their offer on revenue, but we have said that it has to be fair to the American people and done in a way that doesn’t put the burden on working families and addresses the issue of getting people back to work,” Murray, the panel’s Democratic co-chairman, said. “We are waiting for them to accept that. I believe we have opened a door to negotiations in these last final hours -- that if they can come to an agreement on their side on revenue, that we’ll be able to move forward."

She added: “My hope is that that would happen today.”

But confidence in achieving a deal appeared to be sinking.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who is on the panel, told reporters that “time is running out” and said that the group is “working hard.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said as much earlier in the day -- that a broad deal in the ballpark of $4 trillion in deficit savings over the next decade no longer seems like a real possibility.

“I’m still optimistic. But ... I’m realistic, as well. I don’t hear anything that sounds big and bold,” Pelosi said at her weekly news conference.

The panel must agree to a plan to cut $1.2 trillion from the federal deficit over the next decade to stave off a $1.2 trillion across-the-board cut to defense and non-defense programs in early 2013.

Democrat committee members were meeting early Thursday, and Republicans were slated to hold several meetings, including a late-afternoon huddle with Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

In a morning TV interview, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said that he and the other supercommittee members will likely continue their talks over the weekend.

“This is a hard deadline, Wednesday November 23,” Van Hollen said in the interview on WTTG. “We are going to have to work all weekend to try to bridge these differences.”

But at least one voice in the Capitol wasn’t losing hope on Thursday. Chaplain Barry C. Black, who opens the Senate each day with a prayer, sought the intervention of a higher power.

“Let your peace that passes understanding be felt on Capitol Hill,” Black said. “Remove distracting priorities from the minds of our senators, leading them to focus on the things that really matter. ... In a special way, guide the supercommittee in its challenging work.”

Staff writer Paul Kane contributed to this report.

Rosalind Helderman is a political enterprise and investigations reporter for the Washington Post.


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