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Leaders May Push Debt Deal

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor refused to answer specific questions on the work of the super committee during his weekly press conference but said his experience working on a debt limit deal with Vice President Joseph Biden gave him sympathy for the negotiators.

As the super committee approaches its final week of negotiations, Congressional leaders who created the panel in the first place will have to decide whether to become more proactive in forcing the group to a deal.

To date, the top four Congressional lawmakers — Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) — have expressed nothing but support for the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction, in tones ranging from tempered optimism for a deal to urgent warnings of what could happen to the American economy and credit rating in the wake of failure.

Behind closed doors, however, the leaders have not been nearly as involved as they were in previous deficit reduction efforts. Sources close to leadership and the committee indicate that leaders are keeping close tabs on the super committee’s progress, are maintaining at least a staff-level presence in regular meetings, and are committed to seeing the panel succeed. But with nine days left for the super committee to find a deal, more leader involvement might be required, especially with the panel’s Democrats and Republicans seemingly still at odds over how to reconcile their differences on taxes and entitlements.

Super committee Republicans were the last side to make an offer in what has been an intense and secretive negotiating process. Their $1.2 trillion plan, devised by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) last week, would be broken down into $700 billion in cuts and $500 billion in revenues, including $250 billion in tax code reform. GOP sources close to the committee said Co-Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) was told late last week to expect a Democratic counter-offer from Co-Chairman Patty Murray (D-Wash.), but Democratic sources denied this. The most recent Democratic offer was made last Monday and was worth $2.3 trillion over 10 years, including $1 trillion in revenues and $400 billion in entitlement reform.

Though leaders and panel members have spent months touting the merits of a “big deal,” with time running out, it’s possible the super committee could take a potential escape route: A more modest plan that, at a minimum, would reduce the size of the automatic cuts that will take effect in 2013 if the panel fails to produce a package that reduces the deficit by at least $1.2 trillion. That trigger, known as sequestration, includes about $500 billion in defense cuts, already widely panned by Republicans, and Medicare cuts.

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