November 21, 2011 in Nation/World

Debt panel at an impasse

Supercommittee leaders point fingers as deadline for agreement looms
Lisa Mascaro Tribune Washington bureau
 
Deadline

The committee has until Wednesday to vote on a proposal that would reduce the nation’s deficits by $1.5 trillion over a decade. Talks continue behind closed doors, but with the requirement that any deal be posted by this evening, prospects for a compromise have dimmed.

WASHINGTON – Congressional leaders are negotiating an endgame for the “supercommittee” that could come as soon as today as Democrats and Republicans blame each other for what appears to be the panel’s failure to come up with a $1.5 trillion deficit-reduction plan.

Despite a flurry of last-minute proposals and closed meetings, it appeared increasingly unlikely that members of the bipartisan committee could compromise on the contentious issues of taxes and entitlement spending that have deadlocked the talks.

As President Barack Obama returned from a weeklong trip to Asia, the White House urged the committee to accomplish what it set out to do.

“Avoiding accountability and kicking the can down the road is how Washington got into this deficit problem in the first place,” White House spokeswoman Amy Brundage said.

The co-leaders of the panel, Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., in separate appearances on Sunday talk shows, said they held out hope for last-minute progress but saw little chance of ending the stalemate.

“Reality is to some extent starting to overtake hope,” Hensarling said on “Fox News Sunday.” “It is a huge missed opportunity.”

Republicans blamed Democrats for being unwilling to seriously revamp Medicare and other health programs to reduce spending.

Democrats say Republicans refused to substantially break their anti-tax pledge, insisting on a deal that would preserve the George W. Bush-era tax breaks for the wealthy.

“There is one sticking divide, and that is the issue of what I call shared sacrifice, where everybody contributes in a very challenging time for our country,” Murray said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “That line in the sand, we haven’t seen any Republicans willing to cross yet.”

Obama has largely stayed away from publicly intervening in the committee’s work. That has drawn criticism from Republicans, even though Democrats say they keep in constant contact with the White House.

If no deal is reached, domestic and Defense Department accounts will face automatic spending cuts that would be triggered in 2013. Defense hawks are angling to protect the Pentagon, however.

Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, R-Pa., said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that it was important to “change the configuration” of the mandatory cuts to soften the blow on the Pentagon in particular.

But Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., said on Fox that it would be “wimpy” to undo the so-called triggers.

In the committee’s final days, the Republicans’ latest offer was a package that would cut $640 billion off deficits over a decade – far below the committee’s goal, but a fallback proposal that could make a down payment on reining in federal deficits and limit mandatory reductions. It included $3 billion in new tax revenue that would come from closing the loophole that allows a tax deduction for corporate jets.

“Our Democratic friends said no to that offer because it didn’t raise taxes,” Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Democrats initially sought more than $1 trillion in new taxes as well as more than $1 trillion in spending cuts as part of a broader package, a level of revenue Republicans called a nonstarter. Their more recent offers sought less tax revenue.

“We didn’t come here to do another tax cut to the wealthiest people,” Sen. John F. Kerry, D-Mass., said on “Meet the Press.”


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