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Leaders to Stay Close to Deficit Panel

CQ Roll Call File Photo
Rep. Chris Van Hollen said leaders of both parties have been supportive of the super committee so far.

Party leaders are giving the new super committee some space to build a bipartisan deficit plan, but they are staying close enough to the process to continue as the unseen hands behind the scenes.

Indeed, the new Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction is unlikely to reach a “grand bargain” without the leaders’ signoff.

While there is speculation about the 12 members of the panel and whether one or two are susceptible to being wooed to the other side, that’s just not going to happen, several aides in both parties predicted. None of the appointees are obvious candidates for such an apostasy, and they were picked in part because of their loyalty.

Any bill that doesn’t ultimately have the approval of Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), as well as the president, isn’t going to go anywhere, fast-track rules or not. (Given the nature of the House, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s backing isn’t necessarily as critical.)

The leaders “want and will have final say on anything that goes on in that room,” one Democratic aide close to the committee said. “There will be freedom to operate, but there will not be a deal struck without all of those guys on board.”

And any final vote on a package will either be broadly bipartisan or divided on party lines. “This isn’t going to be 7 to 5,” the Democratic aide added. “It’s going to be 10 to 2 or 6 to 6.”

Early indications show that the panel will at least make a serious attempt to produce a bipartisan product.

With a few exceptions, each party’s leadership — and the committee members themselves — have ratcheted down the partisan rhetoric in advance of the committee’s first meeting, scheduled for Thursday.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who is on the super committee, said he has been pleased with the statements from both sides. “All I know is that, so far, the leaders have been supportive of the effort,” he said in a phone interview last week. “I don’t want to prejudge anything, but so far, I think there’s been bipartisan support for giving this committee a chance and an opportunity for us to come up with a plan. Hopefully, that will remain the case.”

One Senate GOP aide predicted that the committee would ultimately cobble together something, even if it only makes a slight dent in the deficit.

“Reid, McConnell and Boehner want to get something done,” the aide said. “There’s not going to be sequestration.” Sequestration is the term for the $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts that would take effect Jan. 1, 2013, if the committee fails to act.

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