Feb. 11, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Deficit Panel Faces Critical Week

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Sen. Patty Murray, co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction, has continued to participate in talks among panel members to come closer to a deficit reduction plan.

With only 10 days left to craft a deficit reduction deal, the super committee is facing its now-or-never moment.

Last week, Democrats and Republicans on the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction appeared to agree on only one thing: They were at an impasse. But after a week of exchanging plans and barbs, the committee’s best hope this week is that they’ve cleared enough space and paperwork to find a deal.

No one close to the committee has suggested that the fundamental disagreement between Democrats and Republicans — how to balance increased revenues, spending cuts and entitlement reform — is anywhere close to being resolved. But individual Members planned to continue exchanging ideas and plans through the weekend in an effort to break the deadlock.

Dueling plans from both parties last week seemed to bring out the most partisan statements yet from Members inside the room. Democrats attacked a $1.2 trillion Republican plan floated by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) for not being a “serious” effort on revenues, even though it contained $500 billion in revenues, including $250 billion in tax code reform. Republicans pushed back that Democrats were not conceding enough on entitlements, even though their plan included $350 billion and $50 billion in Medicare and Medicaid reforms, respectively.

At the end of the week, it was almost impossible for even panel members to say where they stood.

“I’m not sure,” Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) told reporters Thursday when asked to characterize where the talks were. “As you get closer to the end, it’s harder to be optimistic, but I’m remaining hopeful.”

Though the GOP proposal unveiled last Monday was summarily panned by Democrats — including Co-Chairman Patty Murray (Wash.) — the plan did mark a shift for a party once completely unwilling to touch the issue of tax increases. But Democrats believe the GOP’s call for making permanent the Bush-era tax cuts is an overreach because Republicans offered only $250 billion from tax deduction reform in return. Moreover, it is not clear that the Republican framework, which also suggests lowering the top tax rate from 35 percent to 28 percent, would be able to provide the amount of deficit savings indicated while achieving those rates.

But because the proposal came from a former Club for Growth president and was warmly received at a Senate GOP Conference meeting Wednesday, the move could be key to striking a deal. Short of that, Republicans believe they effectively punctured the Democratic message — floated last Monday by Senate Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) — that the super committee would fail because the GOP would not discuss revenues.

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