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Deficit Panel Inches Along

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Sen. John Kerry, a member of the super committee, has met with other Democratic members of the panel to chart a path toward an agreement on deficit reduction.

“I have yet to see a real, credible plan that raises revenue in a significant way to bring us to a fair and balanced proposal. I am open to one,” said Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction Co-Chairman Patty Murray (D-Wash.), in a rare critique of anything related to the panel.

The flurry of news Tuesday surrounding the secretive panel played out against a backdrop of progress that has been incremental at best.

Toomey met with Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) Monday night. Throughout the course of super committee negotiations, various small groups and member-to-member meetings have taken place, even when the full panel has not convened to negotiate. The full super committee has not met behind closed doors since last Monday, though the Democratic and Republican contingents have met among themselves since then.

But there may be some hope for future agreement in Tuesday’s developments, even if there are only two weeks left before the panel’s Nov. 23 deadline.

“It’s a concession that we’re willing to entertain it,” a senior Senate Republican aide said of a possible tax increase. “This is a significant change.”

A Democratic leadership aide, who wanted to be clear that the current GOP offering was unacceptable, made a similar observation.

“It could be productive that Pat Toomey is saying that tax reform does not have to be revenue-neutral,” the aide said. “They’ve effectively shifted their position.”

The question the super committee and Congressional leaders face now is what’s next for the talks. It was unclear whether Democrats could build off any piece of the GOP offer. And it remains to be seen whether Republicans could get conference-wide support in the House or Senate for any revenue increases at all, a problem that has plagued multiple debt talks from the get-go.

Moreover, it seems that Democrats and Republicans aren’t on the same page about what an acceptable ratio of cuts-to-revenues would be. Both parties seem to be basing their expectations on this summer’s negotiations for a grand bargain between Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and President Barack Obama, where the ratio was approximately 3-to-1 cuts-to-savings. But Democrats appear to believe that the revenues from the super committee would need to be higher to account for cuts that were made immediately upon enactment of the debt limit increase this summer. That position was reflected in the Democrats’ initial offering for the super committee, which was half cuts, half revenues.

Republican sources indicated the overall composition of an agreement should include significantly more cuts.

Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.

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