US debt panel groping for deal as deadline looms
A US Congress “supercommittee” tasked with finding $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction planned to meet through the weekend if necessary to find an elusive deal, one of its co-chairs said Friday.
“We are painfully, painfully aware of the deadline that is staring us in the face,” Republican Representative Jeb Hensarling told reporters as the panel groped for a compromise by Wednesday as required under the law that created it.
Hensarling said the committee would meet Friday and then through the weekend if necessary to “try to find sufficient common ground” on a solution to “simultaneously address both our nation’s jobs crisis and the debt crisis.”
The committee has to November 23 to lay out a plan for $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years, after which the fullCongress has until December 23 to approve the proposal in a fast-tracked legislative process.
Failure to enact the blueprint by mid-January would trigger draconian cuts, come January 2013, to the US social safety net and military spending to make up the difference between the sought-for savings and any final deal.
The committee, created in an August deal on raising the US debt limit, has locked up over Republican refusals of Democratic calls to raise taxes on the very wealthy in return for cuts to cherished social safety net programs.
Democrats have reportedly offered reductions in so-called “entitlement” health care programs for the poor and elderly as well as the Social Security pension plan dear to their core voters but insisted the rich must pay more.
Republicans have warned that will cripple job-creating investment at a time when the brittle US economy labors under stubbornly high unemployment of more than nine percent.
And they have reportedly countered with cuts to the safety net while pushing tax changes they say will raise $250 billion over 10 years while seeing rates on the wealthiest earners drop — a move Democrats have rejected.
Any deal would require majority approval on the committee, which is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, and would then enjoy fast-track consideration by the whole Congress, with no amendments possible.