With the congressional deficit reduction committee locked in a stalemate as it enters its final 10 days before a critical deadline, members have hinted that they may be willing to punt and consider fallback plans.
The secretive supercommittee already has let slip a soft deadline set by the Congressional Budget Office, which wanted the group’s plan at least two weeks in advance in order to properly “score” the document to ensure its numbers add up.
On Sunday, Rep. Jeb Hensarling, a Texas Republican and panel co-chairman, told CNN’s “State of the Union” program, “Indeed, yes, there could be a two-step process that could give us pro-growth tax reform.”
Under such a scenario, for example, the deficit panel could instruct tax-writing committees to reform tax codes in order to raise a certain amount of money, but leave it to the tax writers to work out the details.
“It is important to note that the [supercommittee] has both a goal and a duty, and in many respects the duty is more important than the goal,” Mr. Hensarling said. “The duty is to put forth legislation that actually addresses our long-term structural debt.”
Reforming health care entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, he said, is the only way to significantly lower the deficit.
“Nothing else comes close,” he said.
Mr. Hensarling said he is hopeful that the 12-member bipartisan panel can hammer out a deal in time, but the process “has been a roller-coaster ride.”
“This isn’t easy,” he said. “If it was, the president of the United States and the speaker of the House would’ve gotten it done themselves.”
Sen. Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican and panel member, said the talks are “at a difficult point” and that “we have no time to waste.”
“I stay here [in Washington] this weekend, as most of my [supercommittee] colleagues did, so that we could continue the various discussions that are taking place,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.”
The panel has until a week from Wednesday to agree on a plan to lower the federal budget deficit by $1.5 trillion. Failure would trigger $1.2 trillion across-the-board spending cuts, about half directed at the Pentagon.
Because the “automatic” spending cuts wouldn’t take effect until January 2013 in a process called “sequestration,” Congress has plenty of time to change its rules — a scenario Mr. Toomey said is likely should the deficit panel fail.
“In a very, very unfortunate event that we don’t [reach a deal], I think it’s very likely that Congress would reconsider the configuration of that sequestration,” he said. “I think that would be a lively debate.”
Mr. Toomey was a chief architect of a Republican plan last week that called for about $1.2 trillion in debt reduction that included about $750 billion in spending cuts and $400 billion to $500 billion in new revenue.