Supercommittee member still sees chance for grand bargain on debt

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), a member of the debt-cutting supercommittee, said Friday that the group could still come up with a grand bargain that exceeds its mandate to cut $1.5 trillion — if members find a way to make difficult compromises.

Conventional wisdom has been that the 12-member body will be unable to agree on a deal large enough to stop the explosive growth of the national debt. Such a deal would require about $4 trillion in deficit cuts over 10 years, and had been the subject of “grand bargain” talks between President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).

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“I still think that is in the realm of the possible,” Van Hollen said of the grand bargain idea. He said the supercommittee, the report of which is guaranteed up-or-down votes in Congress this year, could be a unique opportunity to “go big.”

Pressed on the odds of the supercommittee even being able to meet its mandate, however, Van Hollen said, “I really can’t handicap the odds at this point in time.”

“Whether we are able to overcome significant differences in the end of the day is still unclear,” he said. The Democrat repeatedly emphasized that he thinks his colleagues on the committee are working in good faith for the good of the country.

The supercommittee has been meeting almost daily for weeks trying to meet its Nov. 23 deadline for coming up with cuts. In reality the deadline is sooner, because the Congressional Budget Office wants to be able to score a report by early November.

Van Hollen continues to urge the group to consider the “balanced” approaches favored by the Senate Gang of Six negotiators, the president’s fiscal commission and the Bipartisan Policy Center debt task force. These groups all recommended a combination of spending cuts, entitlement reforms and tax increases.


Republicans have so far expressed opposition to new revenues from tax increases.

Van Hollen also is urging the group to consider all or parts of Obama’s jobs bill, which he said would help reduce the deficit by growing the economy and stimulating new revenue.

At the Newseum event in Washington, D.C., sponsored by National Journal, former Clinton budget Director Alice Rivlin said the stakes are high for the supercommittee and that failure could result in a double-dip recession.

Asked about whether supercommittee failure could lead to recession, Van Hollen said he would leave such analysis to Rivlin or Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, who has called for long-term deficit reduction in the interest of economic growth.

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