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Deficit Panel Tries Working in a Bubble

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Rep. Jeb Hensarling and Sen. Patty Murray, co-chairmen of the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction, speak with reporters after a breakfast meeting of the Committee on Thursday.

President Barack Obama is set to unveil "a more ambitious deficit plan" Monday, but it's unclear whether the president's framework or any other exhortations for the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction to "go big" will push it to go further than the original $1.5 trillion target.

Obama announced in an address to a joint session of Congress this month that his budget outline would include entitlement and revenue reform two of the most politically divisive issues in the budget debate. Obama's outline is expected to call for about $2 trillion in savings.

Although members of the super committee expressed openness to tackling both taxes and entitlements during the group's first two public hearings, almost all of them acknowledge that the road to any agreement will be difficult. And sources close to the committee suggest that any outside pressures, even from the president, will make that road much tougher.

In that respect, the 12-member bipartisan, bicameral panel has started to create a bubble around its work. The panel's lawmakers have kept extremely tight-lipped after leaving private meetings, and there has been little internal discussion of outside calls from the White House or other policymakers for them to include or exclude certain items. The panel's co-chairmen, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), have said little about the panel's goals beyond statements last week that they were ready to "seize the moment."

Leadership sources said it is unlikely the super committee will be swayed by positions taken by anyone outside the room unless that direction is coming from some agreed position among Obama, Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) a scenario not inconsistent with Congress' last two big agreements on the nation's finances. Those deals include a compromise that averted a government shutdown and an agreement on raising the debt ceiling.

"It's more of a box-checker than a game-changer," one Democratic leadership aide said about Obama's speech Monday.

Also consistent with recent precedent, aides to Hill leaders said that, as of Friday, the White House had not told them the details of the plan Obama is set to release. However, they said they expect the speech to be similar in tone to a broader budget address Obama delivered last spring at George Washington University rather than a concrete outline of what he'd like to see done.

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