WASHINGTON – The stalemate in the congressional supercommittee over raising taxes hardened, dimming prospects for a deficit-reduction deal even as an unusual “gang of 147” lawmakers urged the panel to compromise and strike a grand budget bargain.
Democrats and Republicans from both chambers gathered Wednesday to lend rare bipartisan support for a deal on taxes and spending.
“Supercommittee, we’ve got your back,” said Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., a leader of past bipartisan deficit-cutting efforts.
Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the top Democratic vote-counter in the House, assessed the crowd of lawmakers gathered and said: “We’re getting close to having the votes, folks.”
But the lawmakers’ willingness to set aside partisan differences appeared to do little to break the impasse gripping the 12-member supercommittee. With just a week remaining before the deadline to vote on a deficit plan, gloomy forecasts began to proliferate.
Republicans have drawn a line over the amount of new taxes they will agree to in exchange for reductions in spending on Medicare and other domestic programs.
GOP negotiators have proposed $250 billion in new tax revenues over 10 years – an offer dismissed by Democrats as insufficient. Any package must consist, in equal parts, of spending cuts and new tax revenue, Democrats say.
“I am still hopeful Republicans will see their way to bring to us a real revenue package – and that’s what all of us are looking for in terms of fair and balanced,” said Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the supercommittee co-chair, emerging from a two-hour closed-door meeting with other Democrats. “I hope that they have not walked away.”
But the panel’s Republican co-chairman, Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas, appeared to toughen the Republican position.
Hensarling said he would only consider taxes beyond $250 billion if Democrats offered a fundamental revamping of Medicare, similar to the one proposed by a separate bipartisan deficit-reduction panel and championed by Rep. Paul D. Ryan, D-Wis., earlier this year.
Around the Capitol, the deadlock sparked disputes about which party was to blame for allowing a sweeping deficit-reduction deal to potentially slip away.
Such arguments are sure to intensify in the coming days, as each party prepares to portray the other as being unyielding on fiscal issues.
Republicans, in blaming Democrats, complained about President Barack Obama’s absence from the discussions. They noted that rising national debt, the issue that launched the formation of the supercommittee, topped $15 trillion this week.
Democrats pointed to anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, saying he has too much influence over the GOP. Most Republican lawmakers have signed an anti-tax pledge promoted by Norquist’s group.
At the same time, outside groups continued to pressure the panel to strike a deal to avoid further risk of destabilizing the economy, especially right before the holiday shopping season. Retailers are worried that failure by the committee could dampen consumer confidence on Black Friday.
Patriotic Millionaires, a group that was formed to resist continued tax breaks for those earning beyond $1 million, urged the supercommittee to reduce deficits by tapping the wealthy. Advocacy groups warned against steep cuts to programs for seniors and others.
Amid the pessimism, some noted that Congress often doesn’t reach agreement until the final hours. The supercommittee has until Wednesday to vote. However, it’s required to post its proposal internally by Monday night.