Feb. 9, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Deficit Deal Impasse Threatens Key Initiatives

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Sen. John Kerry, a member of the super committee, talks with the media Thursday. He was one of the few panel members to come to the Capitol over the weekend to work on a plan to reduce the nation’s deficit despite a looming Wednesday deadline.

It’s not clear what that legislative vehicle might be. Congress had moved toward a minibus strategy of approving clusters of appropriations bills for various agencies in lieu of passing another short-term government-wide spending extension. The House and Senate cleared the first minibus, but the second — including financial services and State and foreign operations spending — was blocked last week on the Senate floor. Leaders had been holding off on a longer-term stopgap spending bill until work on the smaller appropriations bills concluded, but now all funding bills are losing support from Republicans loath to support more government spending.

Still, most sources expect that as the Christmas holiday creeps nearer, Congress will find a way to get at least some of these issues resolved.

“We’ve always known these things would have to get done before the end of the year, and we won’t have an issue doing our work,” a House GOP aide said Sunday.

But aides also were uncertain whether the House would entertain every item that Democrats and Republicans had expected would be included in the super committee deal. In a pen and pad with reporters last week, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) did not want to delve into details of the panel’s discussions but noted that regardless of the outcome, he believed Congress would address the doc fix. But sources said an extension to unemployment insurance could prove to be difficult because of opposition from many conservatives. If it is considered, there could be a protracted battle over whether the additional benefits need to be offset by other cuts.

“If you want to extend unemployment benefits, they have to be paid for,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. “We have an unemployment program. We have a tax for it. And it’s paid for, for 26 weeks. So the question is, do we want to borrow money from China to pay people not to work?”

Although the super committee’s obituary was all but inked over the weekend, many of the panel’s members took to the television airwaves to try to make their final cases for why their party was on the right side of the debate and expressed last-ditch, cautious optimism that the group could scrounge together some sort of agreement in its final hours.

Work over the weekend was almost negligible. Super committee members of both parties held conference calls Saturday, but only Sens. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and John Kerry (D-Mass.) came into the Capitol.

Late last week, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) offered an informal $643 billion fallback plan to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). The idea was to find a smaller deal to minimize the pain of the $1.2 trillion in automatic, across-the-board cuts that would go into effect in January 2013 if the group comes to no agreement at all. Of the $643 billion, $316 billion would have been discretionary cuts, including $100 billion from defense. The package also included $98 billion in interest savings and $229 billion in revenues and fees. Of that revenue figure, only $3 billion would be from tax-related changes, with Republicans offering to eliminate the corporate jet tax — a favorite provision for Democrats to highlight as an example about unfair tax breaks to America’s wealthiest.

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