Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Tuesday demonstrated his most direct involvement to date with bipartisan talks to rein in the nation’s deficit, meeting with all six Democratic super committee members for the first time since negotiations began in August.
With one week remaining for the super committee to find a deal, the hour-and-a-half session in the Majority Leader’s suite marked a shift in Reid’s strategy and reflected the urgency of trying to secure a deal through the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction.
Heading into the eleventh hour of talks, both parties are still far apart on the components of a deal, from whether to increase taxes to how to trim entitlements and how to make the parts add up to at least $1.2 trillion in savings.
Reid and Speaker John Boehner met briefly in the Ohio Republican’s office earlier in the day, and Reid said publicly their discussion of the super committee was “nonsubstantive.”
But sources close to the talks — and Reid’s actions later in the afternoon — suggested otherwise. When asked if the leaders’ involvement could help push the group to a deal, super committee member Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said, “Well, certainly the more people that are thinking of ways to resolve this the better.”
Until this week, Republican and Democratic leaders had taken divergent approaches with their super committee members. Boehner, along with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), has met a number of times with the six GOP members of the deficit panel including Tuesday night. Leadership aides have been a constant presence in staff-level Republican super committee sessions.
Democrats, on the other hand, have taken a looser approach, with leaders conversing with committee members on a more individual basis and with staff getting updates but not necessarily sitting in on every meeting. Democratic sources close to the committee indicated that the lack of regular leadership presence in meetings was not reflective in a disinterest in a deal, but rather the latitude leadership gave its Members to make one — a sentiment echoing remarks House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) made to reporters Thursday night.
“My Members don’t have any leash. They’re in there, they’re using their judgment, their knowledge, their understanding. ... They know a good thing when they see it — something that’s good for the country and a compromise, and it has to be just that: a compromise,” Pelosi said.
While both parties tried to spin the differences in leadership style up to this point — Republicans accusing Democrats of being disengaged and Democrats accusing Republicans of being beholden to anti-tax activists such as Grover Norquist — how the panel will proceed in the time it has left is still unclear. But sources indicate that Reid and Boehner will have a large hand in shaping the final product, if there is one.
Lois Lerner, director of exempt organizations for the IRS, arrives for a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on the investigation of the IRS' targeting of political groups. Lerner invoked her Fifth Amendment right to not testify and caused a protest from some committee members when she offered an opening statement and engaged in dialogue with members before invoking the right.
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