According to sources familiar with negotiations, Democrats would not accept the $643 billion package unless it also included approximately $150 billion to $200 billion in tax-based revenue, which was a non-starter for the GOP. The point of the more modest package, Republican aides said, was that neither party's sacred cows, taxes for the GOP and entitlements for Democrats, would be impacted significantly. There were a few other revenue ideas on the table, including a gas tax break, but Republicans said they could not move as far as Democrats wanted.
That Republicans had considered revenues in previous offerings, such as a plan floated by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) last week that including $250 billion in tax revenue, marked a modest policy shift for the party. When super committee Co-Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) addressed the full Republican House Conference late last week, he even made the case that doing pro-growth tax reform in the super committee now would be preferable to waiting until January 2013, when the Bush-era tax cuts are slated to expire. Toomey's plan included an extension.
According to multiple sources tracking the committee, in one of his first meetings with Co-Chairwoman Patty Murray Hensarling suggested the panel consider three tracks: a "big deal" worth more than the $1.2 trillion required of the committee; a path that hit that target; and a smaller, mostly cuts-based package that would reduce the sequester in case the group deadlocked. Murray, a Washington Democrat, seemed cool to the third option because in the deals to avert both the government shutdown and default, Republicans had forced Democrats to accept deals that were cuts-only.
Though there was little hope of a deal in the Capitol Saturday, there was still some tempered optimism that months of negotiations would not be an exercise in complete futility.
"We've done a huge amount of work and however this comes out, that work is not going to go to waste. I could show you $1 trillion in deficit reduction right now if you want me to. And it's been scored," Kyl said. "There have been many, many different ideas scored by CBO over the course of the last couple months — a lot of ideas, some sort of complete plans, others pieces of things that could be inserted."
The super committee would need to send any agreement to the CBO by Monday in order to have enough time for the office to score a deal before a final vote. The committee's bylaws require a CBO score for the vote to be held. Short of an agreement, it's possible the panel would hold a public hearing and vote on competing plans as a symbolic gesture. For the panel to hold such a hearing, its leaders would need to make an announcement by Monday.
President Barack Obama is scheduled to return to Washington tomorrow after a nine day international trip. But sources indicate that he is unlikely to engage directly with the panel. To date, his most public involvement was two separate phone calls to Hensarling and Murray last Friday.
A White House official, however, insisted that the president would like to see an agreement.