Supercommittee slows to a standstill

A Saturday with minimal activity offered little hope that the congressional deficit supercommittee would be able to stave off an embarrassing failure to accomplish its assigned task.

The 12-member panel has just five days to approve at least $1.2 trillion in budget savings, but the flurry of meetings and “shuttle diplomacy” among members of the committee slowed to a near-stop on Saturday. No face-to-face meetings were held, aides in both parties said, while Republican members convened a single conference call in the morning.

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One Democratic member who has been among the most active in the talks, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), attended a Thanksgiving parade in his district and planned to go to a high school soccer game, an aide said.

The lack of outward urgency suggested that members in both parties were resigning themselves to the likelihood that the panel will not be able to reach an agreement by its Nov. 23 deadline. The committee would by law need to deliver proposals to the Congressional Budget Office by Monday night in order for a vote to occur on Wednesday.

With hopes dim for a broad deal that meets or exceeds the $1.2 trillion charge, Republicans this week made a $643 billion fallback offer that would lock in agreed-upon spending cuts and soften the across-the-board reductions that would be triggered if the committee fails. Democrats rejected the bid, however, calling it “laughable.”

A spokesman for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said he remained in “close contact” with GOP members of the panel throughout the day.

Rumors swirling Washington hinted the panel might throw in the towel Saturday, but Republican and Democratic aides said they did not expect the committee to issue a statement announcing it could not reach an agreement. With several members scheduled to appear on talk shows Sunday morning, an aide suggested both sides were laying low until those programs aired. The shows could devolve into an all-out blame fest.

Both parties got a head start on Saturday. The author of a main GOP supercommittee proposal, Sen. Pat Toomey (Pa.), defended the offer in the Republican weekly address, citing “intense Democratic opposition” as an obstacle to a far-reaching deficit accord.

“Surely our Democratic colleagues can agree that a bloated federal government that has grown by about 25 percent in the last few years can tighten its belt by 2 percent over the next 10 years,” Toomey said.

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Hours later, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sent out a fund-raising missive from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) that sought to shift the blame to the GOP.

“The clock is ticking toward the Super Committee's November 23rd deadline,” Pelosi wrote. “Republicans are insisting on eliminating the Medicare guarantee while cutting taxes for millionaires and refusing to include a robust jobs plan. That's not fair.”

A Democratic aide familiar with the talks added: “Democrats have put serious and painful compromises on the table when it comes to spending and entitlements, and the single issue holding up movement right now is Republicans' insistence on protecting the wealthiest Americans from paying their fair share. Democrats remain hopeful that Republicans will move off of their hard-line position and come back to the table with the kind of real revenue that could lead to a balanced and bipartisan deal.”


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