Meanwhile, Members have begun to discuss the contours of a final agreement. To date, Republicans and Democrats have traded partisan offers in order to stake out their positions. But instead of exchanging more plans, Members have entered a new phase where they are trying to figure out where the compromise between the party positions is. Democrats had been prepared Monday night to come back at Republicans with a plan that included $600 billion to $800 billion in revenues, a drop from their most recent pitch, but it was unclear this morning whether that offer was one Democrats actually will make.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) today agreed that talks were taking a different track: “I think at this stage you have people trying to explore all the different avenues that might be able to bridge the differences. We’ll have to see if we’ll get there, but people are making that effort every day.”
Despite what appears to be modest progress on coming to agreement, it is not clear when the panel will meet again as a full group. All 12 members of the super committee have not met behind closed doors since Oct. 31, but small groups and one-on-one meetings have been happening at a fever pitch. Monday night, Hollen met with House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) for about an hour in Camp’s Capitol office. Though the two would not discuss the nature of their meeting, Camp has been negotiating a potential way forward on revenues with his Senate counterpart and fellow super committee member Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who is Senate Finance chairman.
If it’s true that negotiations are entering a more intense, and less pingpong-like phase, the panel likely will have to reconvene as a full group soon. According to the sources close to the committee, Co-Chairmen Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) will have to announce a markup for any deal 48 hours in advance, not a week in advance as required for public hearings of the panel.
Also, Tuesday, Hensarling updated House Republicans on the status of negotiations.
A number of Members had hoped Hensarling would use the weekly Conference meeting to provide a detailed explanation of where the talks stand and the outstanding issues. But the Texas Republican stuck to his pattern of giving a vague readout during his 20-minute presentation, Republicans in the room said, with one explaining he essentially repeated the routine he used this past Sunday on morning news shows.
“He even used the same jokes,” one Republican said.
Most Republicans, particularly Congressional veterans, seemed content to let Hensarling and his colleagues negotiate behind the scenes.
“The problem they’ve got is anything you say can be twisted and misconstrued ... not by the other 11 members in the room, but by their friends outside,” said Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), who acknowledged Hensarling has kept his statements to the conference “opaque.”
On the Democratic side, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer strongly rejected growing whispers from Republicans that House Democrats are purposefully attempting to scuttle the talks.
The Maryland Democrat called failure “inappropriate and irrational” and insisted he and Pelosi are firmly behind getting a deal.