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White House Stays Out of Deficit Panel

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Sen. Patty Murray (right), co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction, hasn’t had much help from the White House while negotiating a deal to cut $1.2 trillion from the deficit.

Stung by failed attempts to personally negotiate a grand bargain on the national debt earlier this year, President Barack Obama is keeping his distance from the super committee created to break the deadlock on the debt and deficit.

The White House has played close to no role behind the scenes of the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction, according to senior House and Senate aides on both sides of the aisle. And that doesn’t appear likely to change, unless Republicans show they are willing to budge on the president’s $447 billion jobs package or on taxing the rich.

“Why would they get seriously involved when the Republicans have offered nothing more than politics, rhetoric?” said one Democratic aide close to the committee.

The committee’s Democrats and the White House share a goal of having a balanced approach to the deficit issue, which would include raising taxes as well as cutting spending, and the administration has been keeping tabs on the panel’s progress, aides close to the committee said.

But Democratic aides from the House and Senate told Roll Call this week that the White House has been largely disengaged since offering its deficit reduction package in September — a proposal that even the White House acknowledged at the time wasn’t crafted to get GOP votes.

Aides said there appeared to be several reasons the White House was taking a hands-off approach and introducing its plans to the public instead of getting embroiled in the daily negotiating on the Hill.

Getting involved could actually hurt the chances for a deal because Republicans, particularly those in the rank and file, are likely to oppose anything with Obama’s name on it. The president, aides noted, tried one-on-one talks with Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) earlier this year, and it didn’t turn out well for either leader.

Several aides said the White House believes the super committee is likely to fail to produce a package that shaves at least $1.2 trillion from the deficit. Therefore, it may not be worth their time and could tarnish the president because the GOP would try to pin any failure on him, these aides said.

The White House has come to realize the “Republicans have one target. ... It’s him,” one House aide said.

Even if the panel does get a deal, Obama will want to distance himself from some of the painful choices that are made — arguing that he would have done it differently, even if he ultimately ends up signing the super committee’s package.

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