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Another Senate Democratic aide said that both Reid and McConnell appear to have a sense of ownership over the committee — which was Reid’s idea but was quickly embraced by McConnell — and both have an incentive for it to produce something.
The second Democratic aide said that McConnell has been careful to note that the committee is not simply another “commission,” because it has been designed to produce a result and will get automatic votes in both chambers.
This aide added, “individuals that got selected to the committee wanted to be on it and lobbied to be on it. They didn’t lobby to be on it so they could be a party to a failure.”
Some of the picks, including Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), former president of the conservative Club for Growth, have shown a somewhat surprising willingness to eliminate tax breaks, such as one for ethanol makers — a key demand of Democrats.
“If you’re Pat Toomey and you’re from a purple state, this is an opportunity for you to be a statesman,” one Democratic aide said.
Boehner spokesman Michael Steel also said the Speaker wants a deal.
“Starting to get our deficit and debt under control to help ease the uncertainty that is making it harder to create American jobs must be a priority for every Member of Congress,” Steel said in an email. “Rep. [Jeb] Hensarling [R-Texas] — a member of the House Republican Leadership — will take the lead as co-chairman of the Joint Committee, and our entire Leadership team is ready and willing to do everything they can to help.” Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) is the other co-chairman.
Aides in both parties also noted positively the fact that the committee quickly agreed on a staff director last week — longtime Republican Finance Committee aide Mark Prater — as well as an initial schedule that includes a hearing on Sept. 13. Of course, Prater’s selection had approval from the leaders, who were also instrumental in selecting him, sources said.
And while panel members held partisan strategy sessions last week in advance of the full committee convening, bipartisan discussions have already begun. Still, aides caution that the ideological divide between the parties that scuttled earlier efforts hasn’t dissipated.
Democrats say House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s Aug. 17 call for the committee to take revenue off the table didn’t help. At the time, Reid countered that without revenue, there won’t be a bill. Boehner and the Virginia Republican penned an op-ed in USA Today last week saying they believe the panel can reach a deal without tax increases. However, one GOP aide said that Cantor’s main focus in the coming months would likely be his jobs agenda.
To some extent, an air war between the two parties over what to do is inevitable. But the question will be whether the committee can succeed on a separate, substantive track.