Debt panel’s inactivity stirs unease on Hill

As deadline looms, pressure mounting on supercommittee

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As pressure mounts on the congressional supercommittee to reach a debt-reduction deal, Capitol Hill lawmakers - from House leaders to rank-and-file members - appeared less than confident Thursday the panel would make its Thanksgiving deadline.

House Speaker John A. Boehner described the mood on Capitol Hill as “one of nervousness” and that both parties in both chambers were feeling pressure to reach an agreement.

“If this was easy, these issues would have been dealt with in the last couple of decades,” said the Ohio Republican during his weekly briefing with reporters at the Capitol. “This is hard, and everybody knows it’s hard.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said she was “hopeful” the 12-member bipartisan panel could reach a consensus.

“We’re optimistic that something can be done,” the California Democrat said. “But the time is drawing near.”

House Speaker John Boehner, Ohio Republican, talks about jobs during a news conference on Capitol Hill on Nov. 3, 2011. (Associated Press)

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House Speaker John Boehner, Ohio Republican, talks about jobs during a news ... more >

While Mrs. Pelosi said she hasn’t “put any lines in the sand,” she reiterated her caucus’s long-standing insistence that any deal include tax-revenue increases - something Republicans strongly oppose.

Meanwhile, with less than three weeks left to broker a deal, the supercommittee’s six Republicans and six Democrats haven’t met collectively since last week - fueling speculation the panel is snared in an irreversible deadlock.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Democrat and a supercommittee member, said that “there’s certainly a chance” the panel could reach a deal.
“There is a lot of pressure, obviously, that we all feel to try to get something done,” Mr. Van Hollen said on CNBC. “But we’re still not there yet, obviously.”

The supercommittee is tasked by Nov. 23 to find ways to lower the debt by $1.5 trillion. Failure would trigger $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts, with about half directed at the Pentagon.

Freshman Rep. Allen West, a Florida Republican and a former Army officer, said he is worried the panel will fail and the automatic spending cuts will kick in - a move he said would cause “dangerous” cuts to the military.

“Now is not the time to start playing around with our men and women in uniform,” he said. “We cannot afford to have a military be the bill payers for our own fiscal irresponsibility.”

Rep. Jack Kingston, a 10-term Georgia Republican, said he wouldn’t be surprised if the supercommittee process produced an as-yet-unproposed alternative - possibly a combination of the spending triggers and a broader plan.

“I don’t even know how that would work, but you could have some commissions, some cuts. You’ll have some promises tomorrow; you’ll have some optimistic projections. I just think it’ll be a hodgepodge,” he said.

Mr. Kingston also criticized President Obama for failing to participate in the supercommittee talks.

“Without the White House, who have taken themselves out this from the beginning, you’re going to have a very difficult time getting an agreement,” he said.

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