- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 17, 2011

The congressional debt-reduction committee ramped up its threat of failure Thursday, as members and party leaders spent the day pointing fingers and talking past one another as the clock winds down toward critical deadlines next week.

Negotiations have broken down so much that the supercommittee’s six Democrats and six Republicans can’t even agree on who should make the next move over the thorny issue of tax revenue.

“Democrats are in complete agreement; we have met [the Republicans’] offer on revenue, but we have said that it has to be fair to the American people and done in a way that doesn’t put the burden on working families and addresses the issues of getting people back to work,” said Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat and co-chairman of the panel. “We are waiting for them to accept that.”

Democrats say they’ve offered a $2 trillion debt-reduction plan that includes an equal amount of spending cuts and new tax revenues.

House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, shot back and accused Democrats of failing to offer a meaningful counterproposal to a GOP plan floated last week that included $250 billion in new tax revenue but also would lower the top individual tax rate to 28 percent from 35 percent.

“You need to understand that there’s been exactly one proposal on the table in the committee, and that proposal came from the six Republican members,” he said. “It’s very clear to me that there’s never been a Democrat position — not one.”

Rep. Jeb Hensarling, Texas Republican and the panel’s other co-chairman, when asked about Mrs. Murray’s comments, said he was “unaware of any offer or any idea from any Democrat that did not include a minimum of a trillion dollars or more of tax increases.”

The 12-member supercommittee has until Wednesday to vote on a plan to lower the federal budget deficit by $1.5 trillion. But because the bipartisan Congressional Budget Office by law must have an analysis of the proposal ready 48 hours beforehand, the panel’s actual deadline for a deal is Monday. Failure to reach a compromise would trigger $1.2 trillion across-the-board spending cuts, about half directed at the Pentagon.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi suggested a push to get the supercommittee to accept a more ambitious $4 trillion debt-reduction package may fall short.

“I’m still optimistic, but I’m realistic as well,” she said. “I don’t hear anything that’s big and bold” from the panel.

She also dismissed calls from some liberals who say the automatic “sequestration” cuts would be a palatable option.

“There is a better way to … [lower the deficit] than the sequestration, but the sequestration is part of the legislation and that’s what we will follow,” she said. “But there is a better way, and I’m still optimistic that, recognizing that, the Republicans will come around.”

Mr. Boehner also expressed a desire to avoid the automatic spending cuts.

“The sequester is ugly; it was designed to be ugly because we didn’t want anybody to go there,” he said.

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