The supercommittee is struggling.
After weeks of secret meetings, the 12-member deficit-cutting panel established under last summer’s budget and debt deal appears no closer to a breakthrough than when talks began last month.
While the panel members themselves aren’t doing much talking, other lawmakers, aides and lobbyists closely tracking the committee are increasingly skeptical, even pessimistic, that the panel will be able to meet its assigned goal of at least $1.2 trillion in deficit savings over the next 10 years.
The reason? A familiar deadlock over taxes and cuts to major programs like Medicare and the Medicaid health care program for the poor and disabled.
Democrats won’t go for an agreement that doesn’t include lots of new tax revenue; Republicans are just as ardently anti-tax. The impasse over revenues means that Democrats won’t agree to cost curbs on popular entitlement programs like Medicare.
“Fairness has to be a prerequisite for it,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. “We have just come through passing a bill that was (all spending) cuts, no revenue.” Pelosi was referring to the August debt-limit bill, which set tight “caps” on agency budgets but didn’t contain revenue increases pressed by Democrats.
Democrats are more insistent on revenues now.
“There’s been no movement on revenues, and I’m not sure the Democrats will agree to anything without revenues,” added a Democratic lobbyist who required anonymity to speak candidly.
Asked last week whether she is confident that the panel can hit its $1.2 trillion goal, co-chairman Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., sidestepped the question.
“I am confident that the public is watching us very closely to see if we can show this country that this democracy can work,” Murray told reporters. “I carry that weight on my shoulders every day and so does every member of this committee.”
The two parties have equal strength on the panel, which has until Thanksgiving to come up with a plan to submit for up-or-down House and Senate votes in December. That means bipartisan compromise is a prerequisite for a successful result.
Thus far, say aides to panel members and other lawmakers, neither side has demonstrated the required flexibility in the super-secret talks.
The $1.2 trillion target evolved after efforts by President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to strike a so-called grand bargain on taxes and spending fell apart in July.
Those discussions and earlier talks led by Vice President Joe Biden identified numerous options for cutting the deficit. They included requiring federal workers to contribute more to their retirement, cutting farm subsidies, auctioning broadcast spectrum and curbing payments to Medicare providers like skilled nursing facilities, rural hospitals and home health care services.