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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.

“That was foreseen as a possibility by the people who designed the committee in the first place, and it was a path that was laid out,” said a Senate GOP aide, when asked whether a smaller approach could be taken to soften the blow of the trigger.

The composition of such a deal likely would include the domestic discretionary cuts already found by the committee and then a hodgepodge of nontax mandatory savings that would bring revenue back to the government. Though sources close to the committee would not discuss the kinds of cuts being discussed currently, previous deficit reduction groups — such as the president’s debt commission — outlined where those savings could be found.

The Bowles-Simpson plan recommended finding savings through reforms in federal worker retirement plans; eliminating in-school subsidies for federal student loan programs; eliminating payments to states for abandoned mines; extending spectrum auction authority; indexing the prices of government products and services for inflation; requiring Tennessee Valley Authority, which provides electricity to 9 million Americans in the Southeast, to impose a transmission surcharge; and giving the Postal Service greater management autonomy.

Democratic aides, however, expressed a reluctance to take that approach. They worry it would produce worse policy than sequestration, because the trigger creates a firewall between defense and non-defense discretionary spending. Republicans refuse to discuss further defense cuts in the current super committee talks.

House Democratic and Republican leadership teams met Monday to review the super committee state of play, sources said, but there is still no clear path forward.

For now, at least, both Democratic and Republican leaders appear committed to the process and don’t want to risk walking away from the talks.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor reiterated leadership’s support Monday.

The Virginia Republican repeatedly refused to answer specific questions on the work of the super committee during his weekly press conference. However, he did say his experience this summer working on a debt limit deal with Vice President Joseph Biden gave him sympathy for the negotiators.

“I know the kind of pressure they’re under,” said Cantor, who explained he has “been kept abreast” of the work by GOP members.

“I don’t think the sequester will be applicable because I believe they will get a deal by the deadline,” Cantor added.

But Republicans privately acknowledge they are becoming increasingly concerned the committee won’t be able to cut a deal in time. Those involved are “more and more pessimistic,” a House GOP aide familiar with the talks said. The aide added that “people are starting to talk about” who will shoulder the blame if the super committee fails.

Democratic sources are equally concerned about the blame game. Senate Democratic Conference Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) last week said the panel was likely to fail, and he cited GOP resistance to tax increases as the reason why.

Aides said the panel’s GOP members are unlikely to disengage before the Wednesday deadline. From a political standpoint, “we’re in a staring contest where whoever is left at the table can claim to be most serious about this,” the Senate GOP aide explained.

“If necessary, we’ll be at the table by ourselves at the 11th hour,” a senior House GOP leadership aide said Monday.

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