Feb. 11, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Divided Deficit Reduction Panel Bears Blunt Critique

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Former Sen. Alan Simpson speaks with Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction Co-Chairman Patty Murray before the committee’s public hearing today.

“What could not be clearer is that unless we offer fundamental and structural reforms to our nation’s entitlement programs, especially health care, we will not only end up failing in our duty, we may fail our nation as well,” super committee Co-Chairman Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) said, before Bowles made “fail” the word of the day.

Hensarling, the House Republican Conference chairman, then centered his first question to the witnesses around entitlement reform, pressing the panel to acknowledge that the “No. 1 challenge we face in the structural debt crisis is health care.”

His Democratic counterpart, Sen. Patty Murray, underscored the need for a “balanced approach” that also tackled tax reform as the panel enters the “critical final phase” of its work.

“As this committee moves into the home stretch, hearing more about the importance of a balanced approach is going to be very helpful. Because as our witnesses today can address, a bipartisan deal isn’t possible if members refuse to come out from their partisan or ideological corners,” the Washington Democrat said. “It’s not enough for either side to simply say they want to reduce the deficit.”

By holding open court with Bowles, Simpson, Domenici and Rivlin, the super committee was able to check yet another box off its complicated public and private battle to strike a deal. Last month, the panel met behind closed doors with the bipartisan “gang of six” Senators who have worked on their own deficit reduction proposal.

Although nothing about today’s back-and-forth gave any greater reason to hope for a deal, the expert witnesses warned that super committee deadlock, to which some seem resigned, is a terrible outcome, both for confidence in Congress and the American economy.

“We urge you to avoid the sequester,” Rivlin said, referring to the 10 years of across-the-board cuts affecting defense spending, domestic discretionary spending and Medicare if the committee fails.

On Monday, Speaker John Boehner gave a speech in Louisville, Ky., pushing the group to come to agreement and noting that sequestration would be unacceptable.

“Common ground doesn’t mean compromising on your principle. Common ground means finding the places where your agenda overlaps with that of the other party, locking arms and getting it done, without violating your principles,” the Ohio Republican said in a panel appearance with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). “The jobs crisis in America today demands that we seek common ground, and act on it where it’s found.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid warned his Conference during today’s caucus lunch of the repercussions if the super committee falls short, but the Nevada Democrat seemed to try to shift the burden for the panel’s success to the Republicans.

“I read to my caucus today what happens in sequestration with domestic discretionary spending. ... But my friend John Boehner wants this grand bargain without any sacrifice to their people that have most of the money in this country. ... So I would hope we can get something done there, but, you know, if they can’t get it done, they can’t [get] it done. You have to have two. It takes two to tango,” Reid told reporters after the lunch.

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