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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.

Early Tuesday, it appeared the embattled group had gained momentum, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) throwing their weight behind the talks, meeting with each other and then with their respective members.

But the good will vanished after Hensarling took to national television Tuesday night to say Republicans “have gone as far as we feel we can go” and that “any penny” of new revenues would not be acceptable.

By Wednesday, Hensarling’s comments became a full-out distraction. Though Republicans and Democrats met among themselves throughout the day, it appeared everyone was more focused on interpreting what the Texas Republican’s comments meant for the future of the talks.

Hensarling held an impromptu press conference with reporters — called 10 minutes in advance — in front of his Cannon House Office Building suite. He dug in on his stance that the GOP side could not budge from its $1.2 trillion offer, which included $250 billion in tax code reform.

“We have had multiple offers on the table. You know about the one. ... Frankly, there have been iterations of that offer on the table for quite some time. Now I’m not going to negotiate against myself. I’m not moving this particular offer,” Hensarling said before the GOP’s second meeting of the day. “I’m waiting for the Democrats to put fundamental reform on the table. ... That is one offer we have put on the table that they can accept.

“We’re not changing this offer we have on the table,” Hensarling continued.

Before Hensarling’s press conference, Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), who serves on the panel, said that in a private meeting the Texan “was a little distressed at the way his comment was being taken.”

When pressed on what Hensarling had intended to say, Kyl replied, “his point was that’s it, that’s the offer and it’s not going to be increased.”

It was unclear what Hensarling was distressed about, but his comments to CNBC could potentially run afoul of his leadership’s efforts to make clear to the public that the GOP is not walking away from the talks.

Burned by breakdowns in negotiations over the debt ceiling and last spring’s continuing resolution, Boehner has made it clear that he intends to keep Republicans at the table until the eleventh hour to avoid any perception that the party is scuttling the super committee’s work.

Democrats have been equally unwilling to take the fall for a breakdown in the negotiations.

The continued charge from Republicans that Democrats had not been at the table since last Monday, when the two parties exchanged plans in a smaller group, put Democrats on the defensive. But it also gave Democrats a window to claim that Republicans are not negotiating in good faith.

Murray and Hensarling, by all accounts, have maintained a good working relationship throughout the super committee negotiating process, but it was clear the Republican’s statements had touched a nerve. And other super committee Democrats were much less reserved in their critique.

A clearly frustrated Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) had a sharp rebuke for Hensarling, telling a knot of reporters Wednesday that Hensarling’s declaration “isn’t as helpful as sitting at the table and trying to work through these things.”

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