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Leaders Meet as Clock Ticks

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid changed strategies Tuesday, reflecting the urgency of trying to secure a deal through the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction.

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.

Reid tried to downplay his meeting with Boehner and whether he would support any package the committee might send to the full Congress.

“I don’t think there’s anything to kick up to the leadership level until there’s something that we can take a look at. There’s nothing to look at at this stage. At least as far as I know,” Reid told reporters. “The question [is] if they reach a deal, would I unconditionally support it? No, I have to see what it is.”

Boehner reiterated that he is hopeful for agreement and told reporters that if the super committee produces an agreement, he is confident it will pass Congress.

He also emphasized his support for tax code reform, such as a plan offered by super committee member Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), and he indicated the committee was discussing some job creation proposals.

Taking on taxes has been taboo in the GOP Conference, especially in the House, where a conservative bloc has been reticent to consider anything that might be construed as an increase. Boehner called the Toomey plan “a step in the right direction,” but he noted, “The details of how to get there are yet to be worked out.”

As both leaders appeared to get more involved, super committee negotiations also seem to have shifted into a more collaborative phase. Although Republicans insist they are still waiting for a Democratic counter-offer, sources on both sides acknowledged that the days of exchanging plans ping-pong style are over.

“I think at this stage you have people trying to explore all the different avenues that might be able to bridge the differences. We’ll have to see if we’ll get there, but people are making that effort every day,” Van Hollen said.

Boehner also met Tuesday with House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who gave the Speaker rare praise.

“We’re hopeful ... the Speaker is working very hard” to resolve this situation, Hoyer said. He noted that Tuesday’s meeting was not his first with the Republican leader. Pelosi and Reid also spoke Tuesday.

All four major conferences caucused Tuesday, but super committee leaders did not go into specifics about the ongoing talks.

Super committee Co-Chairman Jeb Hensarling, for example, updated House Republicans on the status of negotiations in the morning. A number of Members had hoped the Texas Republican  would use the weekly Conference meeting to provide a detailed explanation of where the talks stand and the outstanding issues. But Hensarling stuck to his pattern of giving a vague readout during his 20-
minute presentation, Republicans in the room said, with one explaining he essentially repeated the routine he used this past Sunday on morning news shows.

“He even used the same jokes,” one Republican said.

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