Feb. 9, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Deficit Panel Still Has Long Way to Go

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Deficit panel Co-Chairmen Rep. Jeb Hensarling (left) and Sen. Patty Murray are trying to find consensus before Nov. 23.

After weeks of silence, the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction finally is making noise — but if the spin coming from both parties on their initial proposals is any indication, the panel still has far to go before any agreement can be reached.

Neither Democrats nor Republicans appear to believe that dueling proposals made last week in two days of intense meetings represent a serious effort at bridging the policy gaps that have plagued previous attempts at sweeping deficit reduction. But time is running out for them to produce a package that shaves at least $1.2 trillion from the deficit over 10 years.

The tension between taxes and entitlements is just as prevalent now as it was in bipartisan talks led by Vice President Joseph Biden last spring and in negotiations between Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and the president during the summer.

With just three and a half weeks until its Nov. 23 deadline, it seems the super committee is not yet in a place to break the stalemate. Indeed, aides are bracing for a last-minute push the week of Thanksgiving to approve a plan — if there is one. Leadership currently is involved but likely will have to become even more involved as negotiations intensify. And Republicans and Democrats are quick with insults but short on insight as to how the empowered panel of 12 bipartisan, bicameral lawmakers will come together in any significant way. Some sources tracking the committee’s work noted late last week that the mood around the panel did not feel nearly as positive as it felt at the outset.

The super committee is slated to have its fifth public hearing Tuesday, when the co-chairmen of the president’s fiscal commission — ex-Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) and former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles — and ex-Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Alice Rivlin and former Senate Budget Chairman Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) will testify before the panel about their own bipartisan frameworks. Democrats said Republicans resisted having this particular hearing, because outlines co-authored by the four veteran policymakers include tax increases. But as with the other super committee public sessions, the made-for-C-SPAN affair will be more for show than any indication of where the panel is headed.

The clearest signs so far of the group’s direction were revealed last week, when Democrats and Republicans presented their dueling plans behind closed doors. Sources on both sides of the aisle, of course, point to the large differences in revenue raisers as the center of the panel’s difficulties. The Democratic plan included nearly $1.3 trillion in new revenues, while the Republican plan recommended less than $800 billion. Both proposals were panned by their opponents almost immediately.

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