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Partisanship Hurts Deficit Panel Work

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer spoke at a bipartisan news conference held Wednesday by almost 150 Members to call on the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction to come to a deal. The panel, however, appears to still be struggling for agreement.

Updated: 7:43 p.m.

Partisan sniping, ultimatums and strategic leaks overtook the super committee Wednesday as the troubled panel struggled to agree on a way to cut the deficit by $1.2 trillion just seven days before its deadline.

Facing charges that they had not responded to a more-than-week-old plan from Republicans, super committee Democrats disclosed that on Friday they had agreed to many of the pieces of the GOP’s most recent proposal.

According to Democratic aides familiar with the talks, Democrats on the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction offered to accept pieces of the GOP framework proposed last week by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.). The Republicans had offered $401 billion in new revenues and $876 billion in spending reductions, including $275 billion in health entitlement savings — figures Democrats said Wednesday they were prepared to agree on.

But Democrats proposed four major changes: no increase in the Medicare retirement age; no change in the way the consumer price index is calculated; no permanent extension of Bush-era tax cuts; and consideration of some of President Barack Obama’s jobs proposals, including unemployment benefit insurance, a payroll tax holiday and infrastructure projects.

The news of a modified offer falls in line with previous reports that Democrats were seeking to craft a deal by negotiating details already on the table. Sources said Co-Chairwoman Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) made the offer directly to Co-Chairman Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas). Hensarling’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Sources also indicated that there was not Democratic consensus around Murray’s offering but that it moved forward with the support of a majority of Democratic members, including Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). Meanwhile, Republicans continued to insist Wednesday that Democrats are unwilling to address structural entitlement reform without significant tax increases.

Regardless of whether each side believed the other was acting in good faith, the Democratic leak Wednesday revealed that the two sides are still far apart as they quickly approach the Nov. 23 deadline.

Following a Democratic morning meeting, a tight-lipped Murray brushed off GOP complaints that she and her colleagues have not presented a new plan to the GOP members.

“I don’t know what they mean by that,” a clearly angry Murray said.

When asked whether a framework for a deal needed to be in place Wednesday, Murray said, “The hours are short. The hours are very short” before disappearing into a Senate elevator.

Indeed, with one week to go, the super committee appeared to be even further from a deal than it was when the week began.

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