Boehner keeps hopes modest for supercommittee

The supercommittee on deficit reduction may have to play some numbers games to significantly exceed the $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction it is charged with finding, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) suggested Thursday.

Boehner met with members of the deficit panel Wednesday, and on Thursday he offered little indication that the secretive committee has made significant progress toward its goal.

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“The so-called supercommittee has a big job to do. They know it, we know it,” the Speaker said at a press conference. “No one expected this to occur without some difficulty. But the conversations continue, and I expect they will continue, because I believe that an outcome and a result is essential to reduce the debt burden on the American people and show the markets that we’re serious about dealing with our own problems.”

Boehner reiterated that the panel’s goal remained as outlined in the legislation that created it: between $1.2 trillion and $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction.

Many members of Congress and outside groups have urged the panel to aim higher and agree to a package resembling the $4 trillion deal that Boehner and President Obama discussed over the summer. Boehner himself has pushed the supercommittee to include a blueprint for comprehensive tax reform in its recommendations.

But on Thursday, Boehner did not sound optimistic about the possibility that the committee would achieve much bigger reductions. Getting to a number like $4 trillion or $5 trillion, he said, might have to count more than $1 trillion in savings from the end of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“People can add up a lot of different numbers,” Boehner said when asked whether a $4 trillion deal was still possible. “You can take the overseas contingency account, which is about $1 trillion dollars worth of savings as a result of the drawdown of our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s already going to happen. Some people want to put that into the overall number. Some people want to take the number that we’ve already done — $1.2 trillion worth of discretionary savings and add it to the number.”

When Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) included $1.1 trillion in war savings in his $2.7 trillion debt limit proposal in July, Boehner and other Republican leaders derided it as “budget gimmickry.”

But with the supercommittee less than six weeks away from its Nov. 23 deadline, the GOP may be looking for a way out of the steep defense cuts that would be triggered if it fails to reach the $1.2 trillion threshold for deficit reduction.

Amid widespread skepticism, members of the panel have been tight-lipped about what, if any, progress they are making. The GOP co-chairman of the supercommittee, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), last month declined  to say whether he thought the war savings could be used toward the committee’s savings goal.