The super committee appeared destined to fail today, as the trickle of tourists milling about the Capitol outnumbered the panel's members and staffers while leaders of both parties were poised to disengage entirely from last-minute talks.
With no imminent government shutdown or default, there was no sense of urgency as there had been when Congress approved a six-month continuing resolution in April and legislation to raise the debt ceiling in August. Just days before the super committee's statutorily imposed deadline for a deal, there were no round-the-clock meetings, no emergency caucuses, no shuttling back-and-forth of staffers.
Instead, there was only Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), dressed in weekend casual wear, fielding phone calls in his second floor office suite before emerging to speak briefly with reporters. Elsewhere in the building, Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) met to talk — but about what is unclear.
Republicans had a conference call early in the morning and Democrats were scheduled to have one later in the evening, but mostly, everyone just seemed to go about the weekend like normal. Super committee member Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), for example, attended the Montgomery County Thanksgiving parade.
After what Kyl called a "last-ditch" effort from Republican leadership — a $643 billion package made up mostly of spending cuts and miscellaneous fees — was summarily rejected by Democrats Thursday, talks both within the committee and among Congressional leaders stalled.
"The last thing we had scored [by the Congressional Budget Office] was kind of a last-ditch effort to say, 'Look, if you can't accomplish anything else, can we at least do spending reductions and revenue receipts that don't have anything to do with health care, entitlements,'" Kyl said this afternoon. "We thought maybe we could just focus on things we had talked about before, and thought we had pretty good agreement on. ... That was a totally scored proposal."
"We'd still like to see it accepted," Kyl added.
The $643 billion fallback plan was an informal offer from Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) earlier in the week. 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 be enacted 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, $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.