Sen. McConnell says President Obama is rooting for the supercommittee to fail

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) on Tuesday accused President Obama of rooting for the deficit-reduction supercommittee to fail for political reasons.

McConnell said Obama’s focus on his 2012 reelection bid is why Democratic leaders are sounding increasingly pessimistic about the prospect of the panel reaching a deal by the Nov. 23 deadline.

McConnell’s assessment of the political dynamic came the day after Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), the Senate Democrats’ message strategist, predicted the panel would end in failure.

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“It’s pretty clear when Chuck Schumer speaks, he’s speaking for the most partisan Democratic position. And it does raise your suspicion that the folks down at the White House are pulling for failure because, you see, if the joint committee succeeds, it steps on the storyline that they’ve been peddling, which is you can’t do anything with Republicans in Congress,” McConnell told reporters Tuesday.

Obama has gone on the warpath against Congress for not acting to address the nation’s economic problems, echoing President Truman with his campaign against a “do-nothing Republican Congress.”

That strategy seems to have changed the political calculus for McConnell.

Senate GOP sources said last week that McConnell signaled to colleagues that he wanted the supercommittee to go for a big deal with deficit cuts far beyond the $1.2 trillion mandate. A Republican senator who asked for anonymity to speak about his leader told The Hill that McConnell “recalculated” after seeing how a failure by the panel could play into Obama’s hands.

In an interview with MSNBC Monday, Schumer said the supercommittee would likely fail to reach a deal, a statement that Republicans criticized as a deliberate attempt to undermine the talks.

“I don’t think … the supercommittee is going to succeed, because our Republican colleagues have said no net revenues,” Schumer said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) did not echo Schumer’s remarks on Tuesday. He indicated the panel needs more time while also blaming Republicans for allegedly following the lead of anti-tax activist Grover Norquist.

“Grover Norquist seems to be in the room,” Reid said. 

McConnell on Tuesday repeated his claim that failure is not an option and said Republican members are working intently on reaching a significant deal.

“We’re working toward an outcome. We think the country, the markets and the world need to see the American government succeed,” he said. “And so I know I can confidently speak for my three appointees and the three appointees of the Speaker that we’re working diligently to get a solution.”

White House officials say that Obama still wants a deal from the supercommittee. The president gave the panel a specific set of recommendations in September.

“The president believes the supercommittee can and should adopt a balanced approach to long-term and medium-term deficit and debt reduction. How you do that is not nearly as complicated as we might expect,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday. “He remains hopeful that the supercommittee will take that approach, because we need to address this issue.”

Perhaps in response to Democratic criticism that they are obstinate on taxes, Republicans have given some ground on raising revenues to pay for deficit reduction.

A Republican aide said the GOP negotiators are willing to limit individual tax deductions and corporate tax breaks in exchange for lowering income tax rates and making these lower rates permanent. They are willing to devote a chunk of the revenues to reducing the deficit, which means the eliminated deductions and breaks would exceed the revenue lost by lowering rates, under a conventional budget-scoring scenario.

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) has met with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) to explore common ground on raising tax revenues — a development first reported by The New York Times. Toomey and Baucus are both members of the supercommittee.

Democrats, however, are frustrated that Republicans will not match the $800 billion in new tax revenues they claim Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) put on the table during deficit-reduction talks over the summer with Obama.

Democratic and Republican members of the supercommittee have also deadlocked over Medicare reforms.

Several Democratic sources familiar with the supercommittee talks said Republicans are pushing the Medicare reforms proposed in Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) controversial budget plan.

Ryan’s blueprint called for turning Medicare into a premium-support system in which the federal government would make direct contributions to enrollees’ healthcare coverage. Conservative supporters of this approach say it would subject health plans to market forces by allowing beneficiaries to apply the federal subsidies to the plans of their choice.

Democrats have derided it as a voucher plan that would fail to keep pace with the rising costs of healthcare coverage.

Ryan’s plan would also use means-testing to limit federal health subsidies for wealthy beneficiaries.

A Democratic aide said Republicans have consistently pushed the idea of turning Medicare into a premium-support system in the supercommittee talks.

A GOP staffer briefed on the negotiations said Republicans have not backed away from Ryan’s proposed Medicare reforms and said GOP negotiators have suggested premium support and means-testing of federal health benefits.

“Many Republicans support the Ryan plan philosophically; we’re not backing away from it,” said the aide.

The aide said Democrats have only entertained cuts in Medicare payments to providers, not beneficiaries.

“Everything the Democrats have offered has been on the provider side. We’re the only ones who have proposed anything on the beneficiary side, things along the lines of premium support and means-testing,” said the GOP aide.

Another GOP aide said Republicans have discussed possible savings from transforming Medicare into a premium support system, but said they are not pushing or advocating for Ryan’s Medicare reforms in a deficit deal. The aide said Democrats are circulating that story to collect ammunition for campaign attacks on the Ryan plan in 2012.

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Former Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) and former Clinton White House Budget director Alice Rivlin, who support the implementation of a premium support system, testified before the supercommittee last week.

Supercommittee members later asked Domenici and Rivlin for more information on their premium support proposal, according to a source familiar with the request.

Sen. John Barrasso (Wyo.), a doctor and the Senate Republicans’ lead spokesman on healthcare reform, said Ryan’s Medicare reforms remain a viable solution for reducing healthcare costs.

“We need to get the cost of healthcare under control, and we need to make sure that seniors still get the care that they need from the doctor that they want at the cost they can afford,” Barrasso said. “Having patients have more skin in the game is something that works, and that’s what the Paul Ryan plan is attempting to do.”

The Domenici-Rivlin premium support proposal is more centrist than Ryan’s plan, since it would preserve the traditional Medicare program but cap growth per enrollee at the rate of economic growth plus 1 percent of gross domestic product. Ryan’s plan does not maintain traditional Medicare.

Democrats and Republicans have also fought over a GOP proposal to increase revenue by opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, according to a Democratic source familiar with the talks.

The sale of leases is projected to raise $5 billion over a decade, but Democrats rejected the proposal immediately.

— Ben Geman contributed to this report.

This story was originally posted at 2:55 p.m. and has been updated.