By Erik Wasson - 08/24/11 08:59 PM EDT
They have vastly different approaches to the economy, but the new heads of the bipartisan deficit supercommittee are trying to show they can play nice together.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), a longtime appropriator who advocates stimulus spending, and Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), an anti-tax conservative of the "cut, cap and balance" school, issued a statement Wednesday saying that they are working together to come up with a work schedule and chose a staff for their new group.
Eighty-two percent of Americans disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job, according to a New York Times poll from early August.
On top of that, the supercommittee has only until Nov. 23 to come up with at least $1.2 trillion in deficit cuts, and its members are on track to take the entire month of August off, prompting some criticism.
“In the days since [Senate] Leader [Harry] Reid [D-Nev.] and Speaker [John] Boehner [R-Ohio] asked us to undertake this joint responsibility, we have been working together to ensure that the committee we help build is given every opportunity to succeed,” Murray and Hensarling said in their statement.
Murray spokesman Eli Zupnick said it has not been decided yet whether the supercommittee will in fact convene before Congress returns after Labor Day.
The co-chairmen say they have been talking to come up with rules to govern the committee’s work, a schedule of meetings and are “exploring how to build a committee staff that will help us achieve success.”
If the supercommittee fails to come up with $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction by Thanksgiving, then automatic cuts to defense and non-defense spending, including Medicare payments, are to be triggered in 2013.
They note that the most of the 12 members are studying deficit-reduction plans produced recently. Panel member Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said this week he was studying the Bowles-Simpson plan and the work of the Senate Gang of Six.
“We are excited that committee members and staff from both sides of the aisle are eager to engage one another as we begin our work. We encourage our colleagues to participate in active and useful dialogue across the aisle and among our respective caucuses as we continue to work through this process,” the new co-chairmen said.
President Obama has said he wants the group to go beyond its mandate and find a $4 trillion grand bargain that includes tax increases and stimulus spending. Those hot-button items were not mentioned in the Murray-Hensarling statement.