By Mike Lillis - 11/16/11 04:41 PM EST
The third-ranking Senate Republican leader argued Wednesday that Republicans on the supercommittee need to offer more revenues if the deficit panel hopes to balance the country’s books.
The comment from Sen. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), who is leaving his post as chairman of the Senate Republican Conference at the end of the year, bucks those made by the GOP leader of the supercommittee. Rep. Jeb Hansarling (R-Texas) said this week that Republicans will cede no more revenues as the high-stakes panel scrambles to reach a deal before Thanksgiving.
“Both need to put more on the table and get a result, and we’re here to support them.”
The remarks came during a news conference in the Capitol where more than 40 lawmakers, representing both parties and both chambers, urged the supercommittee to go well beyond its mandate to find $1.2 trillion in deficit savings over the next decade.
The supercommittee has less than a week to produce an agreement, which if approved by Congress would prevent automatic cuts to defense and discretionary domestic spending.
Alexander, who is stepping down from the GOP leadership in a bid to promote bipartisanship, suggested that protecting sacred cows — tax cuts for the Republicans and entitlement benefits for the Democrats — threatens the success of the high-stakes budget panel.
He offered similar remarks last week at the Reuters Washington Summit, where he said the obvious path to a deal was for Republicans to offer more tax revenues and Democrats to offer deeper entitlement cuts.
Democrats on the deficit panel are pushing for more revenue hikes to better balance the entitlement cuts they have already offered. But Hensarling said Tuesday that the Republicans have given all the revenues they intend to.
“We have gone as far as we feel we can go,” Hensarling told CNBC. “We put $250 billion of what is known as static revenue on the table, but only if we can bring down rates, [but] any penny of increased static revenue is a step in the wrong direction.”
A Democratic member of the supercommittee, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), said Wednesday that Hensarling’s comments could spell bad news for the fate of the panel’s talks.
“If theirs is a take-it-or-leave-it position, that suggests they’re not interested in continuing the negotiations,” he told reporters in the Capitol.
The 12-member supercommittee has until Nov. 23 to approve a package that cuts deficit spending by at least $1.2 trillion, or automatic cuts — sequestration — will kick in.
Many liberal groups have argued that sequestration would be a better deal for the Democrats, because a number of low-income safety-net programs are exempted from cuts. But the lawmakers promoting a grand bargain Wednesday argued that the automatic cuts would constitute failure.
“Sequestration is not a worthwhile option,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said.
Echoing the warnings of Erskine Bowles, who was a co-chairman of President Obama’s deficit-reduction panel, the lawmakers cautioned that anything less than $4 trillion in cuts over the next decade would threaten America’s financial stability.
“The $4 trillion figure, the effort to ‘go big,’ is not just an arbitrary number,” said Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho). “It’s what we’ve all learned is what we must do as a minimum to achieve the kind of fiscal reform in America that will help keep us the greatest nation and the greatest economy in the world.”
One by one, the other lawmakers taking speaking Wednesday repeated that message.
“‘Go big’ may mean 3 trillion, it may mean four, it may mean five, it may mean six to some people,” said Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.). “But if we don’t get to that level of deficit reduction, then we are not showing to the world marketplace, to Americans and to other people around the world who are watching closely … that we are serious about this issue of the debt and the deficit.”
With the clock ticking toward the deadline, and the talks yielding little fruit so far, leaders in both parties have begun to meet behind closed doors.
On Tuesday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) met with Hoyer and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to discuss another way forward.
Hoyer said neither side wants the deficit panel to fail.
"I told him that I thought failure was not an option [and] he told me he agreed with that," Hoyer said of Boehner. "So I am hopeful he will engage, as Sen. [Mitch] McConnell [R-Ky.] and as I know [Minority] Leader [Nancy] Pelosi [D-Calif.] is prepared to do, and I think Sen. Reid is prepared to do."
Russell Berman contributed.
— Updated at 12:10 p.m.