The deficit-reduction supercommittee "cannot succeed" if members sidestep the parties' sacred cows and focus solely on spending cuts, as Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) suggested this week, the second-ranking House Democrat warned Wednesday.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Kyl's recent suggestion, that panel members exclude entitlement reform and tax hikes in their search for deficit savings, would undermine the public's confidence in Congress's ability to forge solutions to tough problems.
Paying interest on debts is the only untouchable segment of the budget, Hoyer argued.
"All other items should be on the table, and all the members should be willing to address all of those items," Hoyer said.
Created as part of the debt-ceiling deal, the 12-member bipartisan supercommittee is charged with proposing at least $1.5 trillion in deficit savings over the next decade. If it fails, $1.2 trillion in cuts — divided equally between defense and non-defense programs — will automatically kick in.
Kyl, a member of the supercommittee, raised eyebrows Tuesday when he suggested that entitlement benefit cuts (opposed by Democrats) and tax hikes (opposed by Republicans) are simply too controversial for the panel to tackle before the pre-Thanksgiving deadline.
“If either outside forces or the president or even members of Congress were to force the committee members into situations where you have to compromise our principles, that’s going to be very, very hard to do,” Kyl said, according to various reports.
“On the other hand, if we can find ways to achieve a $1.5 trillion in savings that do not force us to compromise our principles, then maybe we’ll have an easier job of doing that."
Hoyer said taking those items off the table is a sure recipe for failure.
"If we do that, we cannot succeed in the manner that we need to succeed," Hoyer said.
All six GOP members have signed the anti-tax-hike pledge pushed by Grover Norquist, the hugely influential head of the conservative Americans for Tax Reform group.
"Taxes are off the table for this supercommittee," Norquist told Bloomberg last month. “We’re now going to focus on spending cuts, and if the Democrats can’t do that, we’ll have the automatic cuts.”
Hoyer said he's spoken with 10 of the 12 members of the supercommittee — including Kyl — in hopes of catalyzing the high-stakes process.
"I've made very clear to each one of them that I want to work with them, and [I'll] use whatever influence and abilities I have to accomplish success.
"The American people are very frustrated; they do not believe their government is working," Hoyer added.
"Neither [House Minority Leader Nancy] Pelosi nor I believe that failure in this effort is an option."