Tensions are mounting as the congressional “super committee” heads into its final week to come up with a deficit reduction plan — just as a separate deadline looms for passing legislation to keep the federal government running.
Congress has passed a series of stopgap measures to avert a government shutdown this year, and the latest expires at midnight Friday. Now the debate over a new government spending bill will give Republicans and Democrats a fresh opportunity to argue over contentious policy issues, as well as the fiscal policies that so starkly divide the two parties.
With voters focused on unemployment as the nation’s biggest problem, Republican leaders have increasingly sought to shift the debate away from the budget battles that have resulted in a 9% approval rating for Congress, one of the lowest on record.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said Monday that he expects Congress to keep the government running with a “positive vote in a bipartisan way” by midweek. Still, he acknowledged that there would be “real sticking points” over details of the legislation.
Meanwhile, the super committee continued closed-door talks in an effort to break a partisan impasse as it struggles to reach a $1.5-trillion deficit reduction deal by its Thanksgiving deadline.
“The fact that members are still talking and working together is certainly an indication that the two sides remain flexible and interested in finding common ground,” said an aide familiar with the talks.
Aides suggested that Democrats would return to the table with a proposal that would raise as much as $800 billion in new revenue over the next decade. That’s comparable to the amount House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) discussed in his negotiations with President Obama in the summer.
Democrats on the super committee earlier had sought $1 trillion in new revenues as part of a broader $3-trillion deal.
But even the $800-billion proposal would require Republicans to bend from their current offer of $250 billion in new taxes over the decade.
Republicans have signaled an initial willingness to shift from their rigid anti-tax provision. But their offer of $250 billion in new revenues was rejected by Democrats as insufficient. Democrats want half the reduction in the deficit to come from new taxes and half from spending cuts — which they describe as a balanced approach.
Leading conservatives have warned Republicans against straying any further from their no-taxes commitment and to instead rely more heavily on spending cuts to reduce the budget gap. Most Republican lawmakers have signed an anti-tax pledge promoted by activist Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform.
“Balance doesn’t mean ‘half right, half wrong,’ ” wrote Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee.
Cantor said the pledge should be honored. “Your words should be good,” he said.
As the super committee sorts through proposals, both sides are increasingly considering a two-step approach that would punt major tax and spending issues into next year — and straight into the presidential election.
Under that scenario, the panel would approve the framework of a deal but direct the tax-writing committees to work out the details to be approved by Congress next year.
On Tuesday, a bipartisan group of lawmakers — the “gang of 147" — is expected to urge the committee to go beyond its $1.5-trillion goal and reduce deficits further.
This group of 45 senators and 102 House members has crossed partisan lines as a show of force to the committee — and possible votes for a final package.
The super committee faces a Nov. 23 deadline for approving a package. Congress then would have a straight up-or-down vote by Christmas Eve.
Failure to strike a deficit reduction deal would result in mandatory spending cuts that would slash defense and domestic programs equally. Both sides would like to avoid that outcome.
The deadline for the committee is even tighter than it seems. The panel must post any proposal 48 hours before a vote — which means Monday is the last day it could be presented before its Nov. 23 vote.