By Mike Lillis - 10/25/11 04:36 PM EDT
With the deficit supercommittee's deadline fast approaching, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer on Tuesday said he's not entirely confident the panel will succeed in reaching a bipartisan agreement before the clock expires.
Choosing his words carefully, the Maryland Democrat said he's "hopeful" the panel meets its goals by its Nov. 23 deadline. But when asked directly if he's "expressing confidence" in the committee's success, Hoyer said no.
"People ask me, 'Are you optimistic?' I say, 'Look, I'm not optimistic, I'm hopeful,'" Hoyer told reporters in the Capitol Tuesday.
Hoyer said it's "absolutely essential" that the supercommittee succeeds in its charge to find at least $1.2 trillion in deficit savings over the next decade. The House Democrats on the panel — Reps. James Clyburn (S.C.), Xavier Becerra (Calif.) and Chris Van Hollen (Md.) — maintain that all 12 members "are working productively toward an end," Hoyer added.
"That does not mean that they believe there have been agreements on particular component parts," Hoyer cautioned. "Time is short [and] that doesn't give me a lot of confidence."
The deficit panel has met numerous times in recent weeks — both publicly and privately — in an effort to forge a bipartisan budget plan that can pass both the House and Senate this year. But the behind-the-scenes deliberations have been kept remarkably secret, and recent news reports suggest the panel is nowhere close to an agreement.
Hoyer said the covert nature of the panel's discussions is perfectly understandable given its high-stakes responsibility. He suggested leaks would undermine the process.
"The 12 are being very circumspect with their colleagues as well as the press," Hoyer said. "A big deal is going to be a controversial deal. … Everybody will not like something."
Meanwhile, the supercommittee's Republican co-chairman Rep. Jeb Hensarling (Texas) is rejecting the notion that the panel hasn't made enough progress to meet its looming deadline.
"I remain encouraged that the members of the Joint Committee know how serious the situation is. I believe they are all committed to achieving our goal,” Hensarling told reporters in the Capitol Tuesday.
“Until the stroke of midnight on Nov. 22, we still have plenty of time.”