"Reid names Kerry to debt panel ‘super committee’"
By Associated Press - BostonHerald.com - August 9, 2011
WASHINGTON - Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced Tuesday he’s naming ...
Senator Patty Murray to co-chair a powerful "super committee" charged with finding more than $1 trillion in deficit cuts this fall.
Murray will be joined by Sens. ...
John Kerry, D-Mass., and ...
Max Baucus, D-Mont., on the panel, which was established last week by hard-fought legislation to increase the national debt.
Murray, who is chairwoman of the committee to elect Democratic senators, is a longtime protector of Democratic priorities such as Medicare, Social Security and veterans’ benefits, as are Kerry and Baucus.
Reid, D-Nev., said in a statement that Murray has "a depth of knowledge on budget issues and demonstrated her ability to work across party lines."
In naming the trio, Reid opted against picking Democrats like Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad of North Dakota or Dick Durbin of Illinois, who backed curbs on Medicare spending and Social Security benefits as members of President Barack Obama’s deficit commission. Baucus also served on the commission but voted against the controversial recommendations put forward by its co-chairs, citing cuts to farm subsidies and a proposed increase in the gasoline tax.
"More significant to me is who (Reid) didn’t pick," said Keith Hennessey, a longtime former Senate GOP aide, citing Reid’s snub of Conrad, who’s also part of a bipartisan Senate "Gang of Six" on the budget. "He didn’t pick someone who might have been bipartisan." Hennessey is now a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.
Baucus is the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over taxes, Social Security and Medicare. Kerry was the Democratic nominee for president in 2004.
Reid is the first of four congressional leaders to make his picks to the panel. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., will also name three members of the 12-member panel, which will be evenly divided between the two parties. They face an Aug. 16 deadline to name committee members.
The committee is charged with coming up with $1.5 trillion or more in budget savings over the coming decade, enough to match increases in the government’s ability to borrow enough money to pay its bills through the beginning of 2013.
It would take a bipartisan majority of at least seven of the committee’s 12 members to recommend legislation for guaranteed yes or no votes before Christmas. The panel has until the day before Thanksgiving to complete its deliberations.
The committee is sure to have a good element of partisanship, but there are powerful incentives for its members to reach agreement. Perhaps most important, if it fails to produce deficit savings of at least $1.2 trillion, or if the House or Senate votes down its recommendations, severe across-the-board spending cuts would be initiated automatically, hitting large swaths of the federal budget starting in 2013, including priorities dear to both parties. They include Medicaid, farm subsidies and the defense budget.
In addition, the recent downgrade on U.S. debt by the Standard & Poor’s rating agency adds additional pressure. Stalemate within the committee could risk additional downgrades or roil financial markets.
Public opinion polls showed that voters were disgusted with Washington’s wrangling over the debt limit.
"As the events of the past week have made clear, the world is watching the work of this committee," Reid said.
Boehner will name the other co-chair. Just as Reid chose a party loyalist, Boehner is likely to choose a stout conservative.
In a conference call Tuesday with rank and file House Republicans, Boehner said his three selections to the joint committee will be "people of courage who understand the gravity of this situation and are committed to doing what needs to be done," according an account provided by a House GOP aide. The aide spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., are among the names most frequently mentioned by congressional aides and lobbyists as Boehner’s likely picks. Ryan and Camp were also deficit commission members but voted against the co-chairmen’s recommendations, citing tax increases and inadequate cost curbs of federal health care programs.
Boehner also said he and other House and Senate leaders of both parties want the newly created panel to conduct "open hearings and a public process."
Political activists and lobbyists said other likely picks include Reps. James E. Clyburn, D-S.C., a member of the House Democratic leadership, and Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., top Democrat on the House Budget Committee.
Sens. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., the No. 2 Senate Republican; Rob Portman, R-Ohio, a Bush administration budget director; and Mike Johanns, R-Neb., his state’s former governor, also are possibilities.
"Kerry picked for debt committee"
By Donovan Slack, Boston Globe Staff, August 9, 2011
WASHINGTON -- Senator John Kerry will be one of six senators on the debt-reduction committee responsible for recommending cuts or new revenue by Thanksgiving that would help balance the nation’s budget.
Kerry, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, will serve with fellow Democratic senators Patty Murray of Washington state and Max Baucus of Montana, said Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid.
“As the events of the past week have made clear, the world is watching the work of this committee. I am confident that Senators Murray, Baucus and Kerry will bring the thoughtfulness, bipartisanship, and commitment to a balanced approach that will produce the best outcome for the American people,” Reid said in a statement.
They will be joined on the committee by three Democratic House members and six Republican lawmakers. The committee, under the debt-ceiling deal reached last week, must agree on recommendations for reducing the deficit by at least $1.5 trillion.
Congress then must vote on those recommendations by the end of December. If they are not passed in an up-or-down vote, a set of deep cuts will automatically take effect, including to defense spending and entitlement programs such as Medicare. The Medicare cuts would affect providers and not beneficiaries directly.
Kerry’s office could not immediately respond to news of the appointment.
Reid said he selected Kerry, Bauchus and Murray because they “each posses an expertise in budget matters, a commitment to a balanced approach and a track record of forging bipartisan consensus.
“...Senators Baucus and Kerry are two of the Senate’s most respected and experienced legislators. Their legislative accomplishments are matched only by their records of forging strong bonds with their Republican colleagues,” Reid said in the statement.
Murray will be co-chair of the committee. The other members will be selected by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker John Boehner, and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
Donovan Slack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @DonovanSlack.
"Six Republicans named to deficit super panel"
By Kevin Drawbaugh, Donna Smith and Richard Cowan - Reuters - August 10, 2011
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republicans named their six members to a congressional deficit-reduction super committee on Wednesday, setting the stage for an attempt to create bipartisan agreement on taxes and government spending.
Jon Kyl, ...
Rob Portman ...
and Patrick Toomey were selected by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.
House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, the top Republican in Congress, named Representatives ...
Dave Camp, ...
Jeb Hensarling ...
and Fred Upton to the committee.
The panel is known as the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction and was established to find $1.5 trillion in additional budget saving over 10 years.
Expectations for a fiscal policy breakthrough by the panel were on the rise as markets whipsawed through the week following a historic downgrade of U.S. debt and a deal to raise the U.S. debt ceiling that postponed tough decisions.
Senate Democrats were first out of the gate on Tuesday with their appointments to the 12-member panel. They were Senators Max Baucus, John Kerry and Patty Murray, a trio that analysts said sent a mixed message about the panel's potential.
Only three more slots on the panel remained to be filled by House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi.
(Reporting by Kevin Drawbaugh, Donna Smith and Richard Cowan; Editing by Howard Goller and Will Dunham)
"Pelosi Picks Loyalists for Debt 'Super Committee'"
By Alex M. Parker - usnews.com - August 11, 2011
Now, all of the picks for the "super committee" are in. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi announced today that representing the House Democrats on the debt reduction committee will be ...
Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, ...
James Clyburn of South Carolina, and ...
Xavier Becerra of California. Other leaders announced their picks earlier this week. The committee's 12 members are tasked with finding $1.5 trillion in cuts to the national debt by Nov. 23.
All of Pelosi's appointees are closely tied to her and her leadership team. Van Hollen was previously the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Larson and Becerra are the chairman and vice chairman, respectively, of the House Democratic Caucus. They'll be expected to hold the Democratic line that whatever recommendations the committee makes, it should include some new government revenues and should avoid cuts to Medicare benefits. Which isn't to say the picks don't also have expertise on the issues the committee will be scrutinizing. Van Hollen, for instance, is the ranking member of the House Budget committee, and was a Democratic negotiator during the debt ceiling talks over the summer.
Pelosi's picks underscore the D.C. conventional wisdom that if a deal is made, it will likely be senators, such as Montana Democrat Max Baucus or Ohio Republican Rob Portman, who will act as brokers.
"Nancy Pelosi Names Final Members To Debt 'Super Committee'"
By Michael McAuliff - HuffingtonPost.com - August 11, 2011
WASHINGTON -- House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) made the final picks for the new deficit-slashing "super Congress" Thursday, naming three lawmakers she believed would back her position that revenue-raising measures must be included in any deal reached by the committee.
The super Congress, officially titled "The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction," consists of 12 lawmakers -- six from each party and each chamber -- who have been given nearly unprecedented power to cut projected deficits by $1.5 trillion over 10 years.
The committee will need only seven votes to pass its proposal. The rest of Congress will not have the power to amend their plan, obstruct it from coming to a vote, or even filibuster it in the Senate -- they will only be able to vote it up or down.
Saying that the committee "must put American prosperity first," Pelosi named members whom she thought would do just that: Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), who is the assistant party leader; Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) vice chair of the Democratic Caucus; and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee.
“The Joint Select Committee has a golden opportunity to take its discussions to the higher ground of America's greatness and its values," Pelosi said in a statement announcing her picks. "It must meet the aspirations of the American people for success and keep America number one."
She also laid out her standards for the committee, saying:
•Focus on economic growth and job creation that reduces the deficit;
•Make decisions regarding investments, cuts and revenues and their timing to stimulate growth while reducing the deficit; and
•Increase demand by offering recommendations that ensure that wages grow with productivity and reduce America’s families’ dependence on credit.
Pelosi has been adamant that the revenue-raising elements of a deal that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) nearly backed with President Obama must be included in the final deal reached by the committee.
“We must achieve a ‘grand bargain’ that reduces the deficit by addressing our entire budget, while strengthening Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security," Pelosi said. "Our entire caucus will work closely with these three appointees toward this goal, which is the goal of the American people."
So far, Pelosi, more than any other congressional leader, has emphasized the position that debt-reduction must be done in a way that does not hamstring a struggling economy. JPMorgan Chase has already estimated the initial deal to raise the debt limit will shave a point and a half off the GDP.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid named Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) to the committee earlier this week. On Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) tapped Sens. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), while Boehner chose Reps. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and Fred Upton (R-Mich.). Murray and Hensarling will serve as co-chairs of the committee.
Pelosi also repeated her call Thursday that the committee be open to public scrutiny.
"Because the work of this committee will affect all Americans, I called last week for its deliberations to be transparent. The committee should conduct its proceedings in the open,” she said.
Some outsiders have called for all campaign donations to members to be disclosed immediately to in order to help prevent special interests from having undue influence on the committee's work.
Some interested observers thought the composition of the committee suggested there was at least a small chance it would be able to strike a deal that passes Congress. "These are all adults," said one Medicare lobbyist, who noted that Boehner's picks are not backed by the Tea Party. "They are all Boehner people -- [House Majority Leader Eric] Cantor got no one."
Toomey is probably the most right wing of the Republican committee members, having once led the vehemently anti-tax Club for Growth. Hensarling, meanwhile, has often advocated privatizing Social Security. But in Camp, Upton, Kyl and Portman, the lobbyist saw chances for compromise.
On the Democratic side, many liberals see Baucus as most likely to side with Republicans, but one Senate leadership aide suggested instead that Baucus would be a tough advocate for the Democratic position. The Medicare lobbyist noted that Baucus is likely to be protective of both Social Security and the health insurance reform law that he was instrumental in writing.
The committee is supposed to finish its debt-reduction plan by Nov. 23. Congress must vote on the whole package by Dec. 23.
"Deficit committee could cut mortgage tax deductions"
By Kenneth R. Harney, The Nation’s Housing, bostonherald.com - Real Estate, August 14, 2011
If you take mortgage interest tax deductions, the next 100 days could have significant financial implications for you, thanks to Congress’ new federal debt ceiling plan.
The compromise legislation created an evenly split, 12-member bipartisan supercommittee — that could call for major cutbacks on real estate write-offs by Thanksgiving.
All it will take is a single vote by a lone senator or House member who breaks with his or her party to put the mortgage interest deduction into serious play.
Here is what’s about to unfold and how it could affect you: The legislation signed by the president Aug. 2 calls for a two-step increase in the federal debt ceiling plus spending cuts of about $917 billion. It also created the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction to slash an additional $1.5 trillion from the deficit over the coming decade.
The committee is required to vote on a plan to achieve these objectives by Nov. 23, using revenue increases, spending cuts or a combination. If the committee members cannot agree on a plan, or if either chamber of Congress votes it down, automatic and severe spending cuts of $1.5 trillion will be imposed equally on the Department of Defense and domestic programs including Medicare provider payments.
The structure of the committee is akin to a jury room rigged with high-power explosives that will detonate if the jurors fail to reach a verdict. Membership consists of six Republicans and six Democrats — three each from the Senate and House — chosen by party leaders. To approve a final package of deficit cuts and extend the debt ceiling, all that will be needed is a simple majority of seven votes.
House and Senate leaders selected their six members this week: Democratic Sens. Patty Murray (Wash.), Max Baucus (Mont.) and John F. Kerry (Mass.); Democratic Reps. James E. Clyburn (S.C.), Xavier Becerra (Calif.) and Chris Van Hollen (Md.); Republican Sens. Jon Kyl (Ariz.), Patrick J. Toomey (Pa.) and Rob Portman (Ohio); and Republican Reps. Jeb Hensarling (Tex.), Dave Camp (Mich.) and Fred Upton (Mich.).
The selections appear to include members who have taken stances in the past that are consistent with party positions. Democrats typically favor revenue increases to help close the deficit, whereas Republicans generally want to slash spending without raising taxes. But there is a real possibility that one or more members on either side could be so concerned about the prospect of painful automatic defense or social-program spending cuts that they would break party ranks.
That compromise might well involve new revenue, and the mortgage interest deduction is one of the lowest-hanging fruits. Lobbying groups who seek to preserve housing write-offs already are gearing up for battle on Capitol Hill. The National Association of Realtors sent an urgent alert to its 1.1 million members asking them to directly “engage their members of Congress on the importance of preserving real estate tax provisions.”
After decades of being considered politically sacrosanct, why are homeowner mortgage write-offs suddenly on the chopping block? Sheer size is the No. 1 reason. The congressional Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that the home mortgage interest deduction will cost the federal government $100 billion during fiscal 2011 and $107.3 billion in 2012.
Among the options open to the supercommittee: lower the maximum mortgage amount eligible for interest deductions to $500,000 from the current $1.1 million; replace the deduction with a tax credit that would be usable by lower- and moderate-income owners as well as those with higher incomes; eliminate interest deductions on second homes; and phase out the deductibility of homeowner property tax payments.
Defenders of the write-offs argue that high levels of homeownership are essential to economic growth and social stability and fully justify the tax system preferences they receive. National opinion polls regularly find widespread support for the write-offs, even among renters. Also, academic and trade group studies project that any abrupt, across-the-board reduction would have a severe impact on home values, possibly sending them plummeting by as much as 15 percent.
Critics, on the other hand, consider the write-offs inherently unfair: They’re skewed to benefit upper-income owners disproportionately and are highly concentrated geographically along the West Coast, the Northeastern states and Mid-Atlantic.
Where’s this debate headed? It’s much too early to predict. But any way you look at it, real estate write-offs could be in greater political jeopardy in the next three months than they have been at any time in the past 25 years.
'Super committee' will launch website for public input
By Lisa Mascaro (email@example.com), Los Angeles Times, August 24, 2011
The super-committee on deficit reduction has yet to hold its first meeting, but its co-chairs said Wednesday they are hard at work constructing the new panel that has less than three months to recommend sweeping budget reductions – a task that skeptics give little chance at success.
In their first joint statement since the panel was formed earlier this month, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) said they have been engaged in “serious discussions” over the logistics of creating the panel that has far-reaching authority to set federal budgets for the next decade.
It is also building a website that could be launched in coming days to solicit public input.
“We have been working together to ensure that the committee we help build is given every opportunity to succeed,” Murray and Hensarling said in a joint statement. “We are confident that most Americans will agree that when building an organization from the ground-up with a short time-table for success, it’s important to get it right the first time.”
The committee has until Nov. 23 to recommend $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction over the next decade through taxes, spending cuts or some combination. If a majority of the bipartisan 12-member panel agrees with the proposal, it would be presented to Congress for an up-or-down vote by Dec. 23.
Such tax and spending decisions have dogged Congress for years, but the committee faces increased pressure to shelve partisanship amid record deficits, jittery financial markets and a struggling economy.
But before the committee can tackle the tough issues, it needs to resolve the more mundane ones – assembling staff, setting meeting times and so on. In this era of partisan Washington, every decision is fraught with political traps.
“We encourage our colleagues to participate in active and useful dialogue across the aisle,” the co-chairs said.
By law, the committee must meet by September 16, 2011.
"New U.S. Congress deficit panel sets first meeting"
* Panel meeting in public, unlike past budget talks
* First public hearing also scheduled, for mid-September (New throughout)
By Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON, September 2, 2011 (Reuters) - A newly-formed congressional panel on deficit reduction next week will kick off months of arduous negotiations that will be closely watched by financial markets hoping for a deal that puts the United States on an improved fiscal path.
The opening meeting of the bipartisan "super committee" will be held on Sept. 8, the co-chairs announced on Friday. It will convene just hours before President Barack Obama unveils his latest jobs-creation initiative to a joint session of Congress.
That initiative and the super committee's work are both aimed at healing a U.S. economy that has been struggling to grow after a deep recession which began at the end of 2007.
The United States is still suffering the after-effects of that recession with high unemployment -- 9.1 percent in the latest government estimate.
Washington's ability to deal with joblessness and slow economic growth will have an impact on the outcome of the November 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
The deficit-reduction panel will also hold its initial public hearing on Sept. 13, when it will review the history and causes of the growing U.S. debt, said co-chairs Democratic Senator Patty Murray and Republican Representative Jeb Hensarling.
Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Elmendorf is scheduled to testify.
The committee is tasked with finding at least $1.2 trillion in new government savings over the next decade and has a Nov. 23 deadline for doing so.
At its meeting, which will be open to the public, the committee will consider rules under which it will operate, according to a press release.
But with Democrats and Republicans jockeying for best position in the run-up to the 2012 elections and with the two political parties holding vastly different views on how to fix the economy, the panel's work will not be easy.
The special committee -- with six Republicans and six Democrats from both houses of Congress -- was created by legislation enacted in early August that cleared the way for raising the U.S. debt limit and avoiding a likely default on government loans. The debate on that legislation was bitter.
The measure included $917 billion in spending cuts over 10 years to help tame budget deficits that have been hovering well above $1 trillion annually.
The super committee is expected to consider a mix of spending cuts and possibly tax increases to reach additional government savings of at least $1.2 trillion. U.S. credit rating agencies are hoping for savings well beyond that figure.
It is unclear whether cuts in benefits to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security recipients would be proposed.
If a majority of the new committee cannot agree on a deficit-reduction package, automatic spending cuts of at least $1.2 trillion would be triggered in 2013. They would be divided equally between defense and domestic programs.
In announcing that its first two gatherings would be open to the public, the special committee is responding to criticisms that deficit-reduction negotiations earlier this year were always behind closed doors. (Editing by Mohammad Zargham)
"Same goal, opposing plans for debt 'super' panel"
By DAVID ESPO - AP Special Correspondent | AP – September 13, 2011
WASHINGTON (AP) — Digging in for a bruising struggle, Republicans on Congress' powerful deficit-fighting "supercommittee" targeted Social Security and government health care spending Tuesday while Democrats pressed for higher tax revenue as part of any deal to reduce red ink by at least $1.2 trillion over the next decade.
There were no ultimatums from either side, and there was even a fleeting suggestion that tax reform might eventually clear the way for the bipartisan agreement that both sides say they want.
Yet with the Census Bureau reporting national poverty at a 28-year high and partisan struggles flaring elsewhere in Congress, the events underscored the challenge the 12-member panel faces as it gropes for a deal that can clear Congress and win President Barack Obama's signature by year's end.
With the nation's debt high and surging and the population aging, "Citizens will either have to pay more for their government, accept less in government services and benefits, or both," Doug Elmendorf, the head of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, told supercommittee.
Though the choices are difficult, he said, the problem "need not be viewed as unsolvable."
Yet the challenge is complicated, he said, if the lawmakers' are hoping to revive the economy in the short term and to cut federal deficits in later years. In that case, "a combination of policies would be required: changes in taxes and spending that would widen the deficit now but reduce it later in the decade."
The committee has until Nov. 23 to recommend legislation, but Elmendorf said the essential decisions must be made as much as three weeks earlier than that to make sure they are drafted into a bill and their impact on the federal budget calculated carefully.
The panel was created last month as part of a compromise that avoided a threatened government default and cut nearly $1 trillion from some federal programs.
In addition to the original goal of cutting long-term deficits, Democrats want much or all of Obama's week-old $447 billion jobs proposal put on the agenda, significantly increasing the amount of savings that must be found.
"My question to Congress is: What on earth are we waiting for?" the president asked rhetorically as he visited Columbus, Ohio, to campaign for the enactment of his program of Social Security payroll tax cuts and spending increases for highway projects and other domestic programs.
Speaking in the home state of Republican House Speaker John Boehner, the Democratic president said his call for $25 million for school construction would put thousands of construction workers in Ohio back to work.
Boehner responded from the Capitol, where he said the president was seeking "permanent tax increases put into effect in order to pay for temporary spending. I just don't think that's going to help our economy the way it could."
Republicans are likely to accept some or all of the tax cuts Obama wants, but the spending increases shape up as a tougher sell. GOP leaders point out that the administration's call for higher taxes on the wealthy has faced opposition from some Democrats as well as Republicans in the past.
There were other skirmishes in Congress as the two parties sought to protect their own priorities in an era of soaring budget deficits.
Democrats on the Senate Appropriations Committee launched defense spending legislation for the budget year beginning Oct. 1 that is $17 billion smaller than the amount approved by the House, a difference that must be reconciled by the end of the month to keep the money flowing.
Also in the Senate, Democrats maneuvered to put Republicans on the spot on disaster aid by seeking legislation that would add $6.9 billion to FEMA's accounts without offsetting cuts elsewhere. The effect would be to let deficits rise.
Past efforts to reach compromise on major debt-reducing proposals have run aground over mutually exclusive demands — Republicans opposed to raising taxes and Democrats against cutting benefit programs.
But Obama has made clear he is willing to consider spending cuts this time around, and Boehner has said he put additional revenues on the table in negotiations with the president last summer that ultimately collapsed.
At the time the two men were considering tax reform that would generate growth — and about $800 billion in additional tax revenue over a decade — while lowering rates and closing loopholes.
Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., briefly raised the issue of tax reform at Tuesday's supercommittee hearing, asking Elmendorf if "revenue equal" overhaul of the existing code would help the economy grow.
The CBO director said it was possible, adding he couldn't say how big the impact might be.
Also inside the debt-reduction hearing, Rep. Jim Clyburn informed other lawmakers of a new Census Bureau report that showed 46 million Americans living in poverty. Referring to health care and other domestic programs, he cautioned Republicans, "'We really ought to look into all of these programs to see where cuts are to be made rather than talk about the number."
Much of the morning-long hearing consisted of committee members posing questions to Elmendorf designed to elicit answers that might enhance their own bargaining positions for negotiations with lawmakers of the other party.
Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, a co-chairman of the panel, pointed to statistics showing that Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are growing faster in relation to the overall economy than they have in the past. "Not quite double, but certainly that can be described as explosive growth, could it not?" he asked.
"Very rapid, Congressman, yes," Elmendorf replied.
Hensarling also quoted Obama as saying, "The major driver of our long-term liabilities, everybody here knows, is Medicare and Medicaid and our health care spending. Nothing comes close."
Asked if he agreed, Elmendorf said he did.
Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Arizona, asked Elmendorf if he agreed that inappropriate payments in federal programs account for a significant amount of spending.
"I do agree," the CBO director said, although he quickly added that there was a difference between fraud and improper payments, some of which might be the result of individuals who were mistaken in how they filled out forms.
Among Democrats, Sen. John Kerry got Elmendorf's agreement when he said federal revenues have been relatively high as a proportion of the overall economy in years since World War II in which the budget was balanced — an attempt to counter Republican arguments that taxes are already too high.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., asked Elmendorf if it were true that Congress could adjourn for the next 10 years and the deficit savings would be greater than recommended by other groups that have tried to produce sweeping reduction packages. Elmendorf said that was correct — the income tax cuts enacted while George W. Bush was president would expire — and Van Hollen said quickly he wasn't advocating that.
But, he said, "It's time for this committee to get real and recognize that, yes, there are spending issues, but there's also a revenue issue. ... We've got to have a balanced approach."
Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction members House Assistant Minority Leader James Clyburn of S.C., left, and Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., talk on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2011, prior to the start of the committee's hearing on the national debt. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction Co-Chairs Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, left, and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., center, listen as Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Elmendorf testifies before the committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2011. At right is committee member, Senate Minorty Whip Jon Kyl of Ariz., (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
"House Democrats warn supercommittee against cuts"
By ALAN FRAM - Associated Press | AP – October 13, 2011
WASHINGTON (AP) — House Democrats are advising Congress' supercommittee to create jobs, raise revenues and avoid damaging cuts to crucial public works, education and health programs as the panel searches for ways to curb the government's growing debt.
A day ahead of a deadline for submitting advice to the supercommittee, minority Democrats from 16 House committees released letters they are sending the panel with their recommendations. Some propose specific savings such as boosting government fees on financial firms and defunding old water projects. All emphasize the need to protect programs that keep the economy strong, especially at a time of high unemployment and a faltering economy.
"Democrats strongly believe that economic growth is an integral component of such a proposal, because creating jobs is the most effective way to reduce the deficit," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., wrote in her own letter to the supercommittee.
The fact that House Democrats wrote their own letters — as opposed to joint letters co-signed by committee Republicans — underscores the wide partisan divide over how the $14 trillion federal debt should be tamed. Congressional Democrats and President Barack Obama want some tax increases included in any debt-reduction package, an idea that the GOP rejects.
Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee, which controls over $1 trillion in annual agency spending, proposed no specific cuts but emphasized the damage that would be done by across-the-board cuts that would be automatically triggered if the supercommittee doesn't produce a package of savings that Congress approves.
Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee, which oversees taxes and large health care programs, wrote that the supercommittee must "spur job creation and economic health today." They urged higher taxes on the wealthy while providing tax incentives for companies that create jobs, and protection for Social Security, unemployment benefits and health care coverage.
Republicans and Senate committees will be sending additional letters to the supercommittee over the next two days. The panel is charged with finding at least $1.2 trillion in savings over the coming decade.
Among letters already sent to the supercommittee, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who heads the Senate Health and Education Committee, asked the panel to take "bold and immediate action to create jobs" while embracing deficit reduction that would take effect after the unemployment rate drops.
Harkin suggests raising taxes and saving money by giving brand-name drugmakers fewer years of patent protection against generic competitors and encouraging students to take education loans directly from their colleges — both policies that have been favored by the Obama administration. Harkin wrote that the supercommittee should avoid cuts to programs including job training, Obama's health care overhaul and aid to the disabled.
The leaders of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Chairman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., combined on a letter asking the supercommittee to "not neglect America's transportation needs."
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, encouraged the committee to pare savings from Social Security by gradually raising the future retirement age from 67 to 69 and, in some years, trimming annual inflation adjustments in benefits by 1 percentage point. Hutchison has been offering that proposal for weeks; it's opposed by the seniors group AARP.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said he and the panel's top Republican, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, hope to write a bipartisan letter that other Armed Services members could support.
The top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said he is trying to unite minority Republicans on that panel behind their own letter.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., who is also on the supercommittee, is considered unlikely to send a recommendation letter, as is another supercommittee member, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich.
The supercommittee has until Nov. 23 to send a package of savings to Congress. Lawmakers will have until Dec. 23 to vote on the measure, with failure meaning $1.2 trillion in cuts in defense and many domestic programs will begin taking effect in 2013.
Warren Buffett has also brought his fight to raise taxes on the super-wealthy to the deficit-reduction panel.
In an exchange of letters between the billionaire investor and a Republican congressman that Buffett sent the committee this week, Buffett is offering to release his federal tax returns — with a condition.
"If you could get other ultra rich Americans to publish their returns along with mine, that would be very useful to the tax dialogue and intelligent reform," Buffett wrote.
Buffett's views have become central to the struggle between Obama and Congress over how to control the federal debt. Obama has used the "Buffett Rule" to describe his fight to clamp taxes on the wealthy that are at least as high as those paid by lower earners, a drive that Republicans oppose.
AP writer Donna Cassata contributed to this story.
"Supercommittee GOP, Democrats swap offers"
By DAVID ESPO - AP Special Correspondent | AP – October 26, 2011
WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans on Congress' deficit-reduction supercommittee outlined a plan Wednesday that includes spending cuts but none of the increases in tax revenue sought by Democrats, completing an initial exchange of offers that left the two sides far apart despite weeks of secret talks.
Officials also said a Democratic proposal on Tuesday and the GOP counter-proposal 24 hours later both included a provision to slow the annual cost-of-living increases in future Social Security benefits, suggesting it could become part of any compromise that might emerge.
The Republican offer calls for somewhat more than $2 trillion in deficit savings over a decade, according to officials in both parties. Less than half of that amount would come from increases in items such as Medicare premiums, the sale of public lands and airport fees — measures that increase government revenue without changing personal or corporate taxes.
Spending cuts include about $500 billion from Medicare over a decade and another $185 billion from Medicaid, these officials said.
By contrast, Democrats want $1.3 trillion in higher tax revenue, a similar amount in spending cuts and enough other savings elsewhere in the budget to reduce deficits by more than $3 trillion over the coming decade while financing a $450 billion jobs bill along the lines that President Barack Obama is recommending.
The officials who described the rival approaches did so on condition of anonymity, saying they were not authorized to provide details of the committee's confidential discussions. In private, each side also disparaged the other, providing yet another indication that the panel's deliberations have not shown significant progress.
Still, the exchange marked a quickening in the pace of activity by the committee after dozens of hours of closed-door meetings, and with time running out, senior leaders in both parties are becoming more involved. Another committee meeting was set for Thursday.
The panel of six Republicans and six Democrats has until Nov. 23 to recommend deficit savings of $1.2 trillion. But in fact, most if not all of the decisions must be made by early next month to give the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office time to render precise estimates on their costs on future deficits.
Whatever the committee recommends must be approved by both houses of Congress in December if lawmakers want to avoid automatic spending cuts of $1.2 trillion across a range of federal programs.
There were signs of Democratic dissension one day after Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., outlined a proposal on behalf of his party's negotiators that included changes in large government benefit programs.
According to several officials, he called for $1.3 trillion in increased tax revenue over a decade, and $1.3 trillion in spending cuts. Another $1 trillion in savings would come from the presumed reduction of Pentagon costs in Iraq and Afghanistan and $500 billion more from a reduction in interest costs resulting from declining deficits.
Those savings would be on top of cuts that Congress approved earlier in the year of nearly $1 trillion.
For Democrats on the committee, it appeared that the most contentious of the items would slow the growth of monthly checks to recipients of Social Security and other benefit programs, curtail Medicare spending by $400 billion over a decade and Medicaid by another $75 billion.
Several Democrats said during the day that the presentation had the support of a majority of the six Democrats on the panel, leaving the impression that at least one, and possibly two, of the party's lawmakers had not signed on. They also stressed that Obama has previously endorsed each of the proposals they made, including the one to adjust the government's calculation for inflation in a way that curtails the growth of benefit programs.
Others suggested that Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., a member of the party's leadership, and Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., had not agreed to support the recommendations.
Aides to the two men would not confirm the accounts.
By contrast, Republicans appeared to avoid any ideological pitfalls in their counter-offer, pulling well back from a position that House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, took earlier in the year in private talks with Obama.
In those discussions, Boehner and the president discussed legislation to enact tax reform that was assumed to result in economic expansion and increases in tax revenue of $800 billion over a decade.
After the collapse of those talks, Republicans have struggled in the ensuing months to avoid any conflict with Grover Norquist, a prominent conservative activist and author of a pledge not to raise taxes that many GOP lawmakers have signed.
In fact, tax reform has figured prominently in the deficit committee's private discussions, according to officials in both parties, and is viewed as a possible key to an agreement.
Under this theory, if Republicans are willing to agree that additional revenue that results from reform does not constitute a tax increase, it might entice Democrats to agree to savings from Medicare and other government benefit programs that account for much of the growth in federal spending in recent years.
Apart from the deficit committee's work, the official web site of the Republican-controlled House Ways and Means Committee sketches a plan to reduce the corporate tax from a current 35 percent to 25 percent, with unspecified provisions to broaden the tax base.
It also makes a favorable reference to a reform of the individual income tax system, without specifics.
Associated Press writer Andrew Taylor contributed to this report.
"Super committee" still hoping for debt deal
By Tabassum Zakaria | Reuters – November 13, 2011
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The congressional "super committee" is at a difficult point in negotiations on deficit-reduction, but lawmakers said on Sunday they had not given up on reaching an agreement by this month's deadline.
The special congressional committee is tasked with finding at least $1.2 trillion in budget savings over 10 years, but with a November 23 deadline looming, Republicans and Democrats have not yet sealed a deal.
Republicans have been reluctant to allow tax increases, and Democrats do not want to agree to cuts in healthcare and retirement programs until tax increases are on the table.
House of Representatives Republican Jeb Hensarling, committee co-chair, acknowledged on CNN's "State of the Union" program that tax increases would likely have to be part of any bipartisan deal.
"We believe that, frankly, increasing tax revenues could hurt the economy, but within the context of a bipartisan negotiation with Democrats, clearly they are a reality," Hensarling said.
House of Representatives Democrat James Clyburn, a member of the super committee, said on "Fox News Sunday" that while he was "very hopeful" that a compromise could be reached by the deadline, "I am not as certain as I was 10 days ago."
'BUILD THE WILL'
Clyburn added: "I really believe that all of the ingredients for a good resolution are there. We just need to build the will."
Lawmakers said they had not given up on the prospect of reaching an agreement by the deadline.
"It's been a roller-coaster ride," Hensarling said. "We haven't given up hope, but if this was easy the president of the United States and the Speaker of the House would have gotten it done themselves."
A dispute over taxes had scuttled negotiations this summer between President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner on a broad deficit-reduction package.
The committee of six Democrats and six Republicans is struggling to meet the deadline that is less than two weeks away. Congress will then have until December 23 to vote on the committee's recommendations.
If either deadline goes unmet, automatic spending cuts would be triggered on domestic and military programs, beginning in 2013, as part of a law enacted in August.
Obama spoke on Friday by telephone with the super committee co-chairs -- Democrat Senator Patty Murray and Hensarling -- to urge that the panel meet the deadline.
The White House has said that Obama would block any measures to water down the enforcement mechanism that would require $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts in 2013 if the committee fails to reach a deal.
"The clock is running out, but it hasn't run out yet. We still have time, but we have no time to waste," Republican Senator Patrick Toomey, a member of the committee, said on "Fox News Sunday."
"It's at a difficult point. I think we've got a ways to go, but I hope we can close that gap very quickly," he said.
(Editing by Philip Barbara)
"Deficit Panel Seeks to Defer Details on Raising Taxes"
By ROBERT PEAR, New York Times, November 13, 2011
WASHINGTON — With a little over a week left to reach a deal, members of the Congressional deficit reduction panel are looking for an escape hatch that would let them strike an accord on revenue levels but delay until next year tough decisions about exactly how to raise taxes.
Under this approach, the panel would decide on the amount of new revenue to be raised but would leave it to the tax-writing committees of Congress to fill in details next year, well beyond the Nov. 23 deadline for the panel itself to reach an agreement. That would put off painful political decisions but ensure that the debate over deficit reduction stretched into the election year.
“There could be a two-step process that would hopefully give us pro-growth tax reform,” Representative Jeb Hensarling of Texas, the top Republican on the panel, said Sunday on the CNN program “State of the Union.”
Members of Congress and their aides said they were still skeptical that the panel could agree on a mix of spending cuts and revenue increases to reduce budget deficits by $1.2 trillion over 10 years, the minimum set by law.
If the panel falls short, a series of automatic cuts, split evenly between military and civilian programs, would take effect, starting in 2013. Some fear that such a failure could lead to the kind of stock market slide and loss of investor confidence that accompanied stalled efforts to raise the federal debt limit earlier this year.
A recent proposal by Republicans on the panel, to raise $300 billion in tax revenue over 10 years, led to some optimism that the committee might at least come up with a partial deal that could reduce the amount of automatic cuts.
Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, said the Republicans’ willingness to discuss higher tax revenue was “a breakthrough.” But as Democrats studied the offer, they found much to criticize.
Until now, the main obstacle to a deal was Republicans’ unwillingness to raise taxes and Democrats’ unwillingness to make significant cuts in the growth of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security without tax increases. To shave deficits by $1.2 trillion without raising revenue or touching entitlement programs could require deep cuts in domestic spending, the military or both.
As the deficit panel enters a final frenetic week of negotiations, Republicans and Democrats said they hoped to give broadly worded instructions to the regular tax-writing committees of Congress — the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee — to come up with a certain amount of revenue after the panel completes its work this month.
The chairmen of the tax-writing committees, Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana, and Representative Dave Camp, Republican of Michigan, have said they would welcome such instructions.
Some lawmakers have become so worried that the committee may deadlock that they have been talking about legislation that would stop the automatic cuts to the military.
President Obama, who has kept his distance from the deficit reduction panel, called the co-chairmen on Friday and urged them to reach a deal. He said he would not accept legislation overriding the cuts that would occur automatically if the panel fails.
If the deficit panel can reach an agreement, lawmakers said, it may raise some revenue — a down payment — and create expedited procedures for Congress to vote next year on tax legislation raising more. If the panel cannot reach agreement, it could still provide directions to the regular standing committees about how to raise revenue while overhauling the tax code for individuals and corporations.
The panel was supposed to bring some finality to a yearlong debate over spending. The debate, driven by conservative freshman Republicans in the House, included the threat of a government shutdown and the collapse of negotiations between Mr. Obama and Speaker John A. Boehner.
Republicans said their latest proposal would raise $300 billion by limiting deductions and other tax breaks that primarily benefit higher-income households.
“We would structure it so the top two brackets pay $250 billion more than they’re paying today,” a Republican Congressional aide said.
Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, the No. 2 Senate Republican and a member of the deficit reduction panel, said this proposal was “a big step, a really big step,” for Republicans who had adamantly opposed tax increases.
Democrats want much more revenue — at least $1 trillion over 10 years. Moreover, they said the Republican plan would provide a windfall to the most affluent households, by permanently reducing the top tax rate to 28 percent. The top rate, now 35 percent, is scheduled to revert to 39.6 percent in 2013, with expiration of the so-called Bush-era tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003.
Senator Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, said on “Fox News Sunday” that Republicans had put new revenue on the table as part of a plan to “avoid this huge tax increase that’s otherwise coming” in 2013. The prospect of that increase has given Democrats leverage in negotiations.
In their latest written proposal, Democrats on the panel said they would raise $350 billion through “miscellaneous revenue provisions” and establish procedures to speed action on “tax reform generating $650 billion” more. The procedures could clear a path in the Senate by limiting senators’ ability to amend or filibuster the legislation.
In their recipe for follow-up legislation, Democrats stipulate that the individual tax rate should be no higher than 35 percent, and that the new tax code should be “as progressive as current law.”
By contrast, Republicans would direct the tax-writing committees to set lower rates, and they say the amount of new revenue should not exceed $500 billion.
In the last week, discussions in the deficit reduction panel have focused almost exclusively on taxes. It is not clear whether the panel will ask standing committees to work out any details of spending cuts.
The 12-member panel, the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, is evenly divided between the parties. Democrats in Congress are keeping a close eye on Mr. Baucus, who in the past has sometimes cut deals with Republicans that angered his Democratic colleagues.
At a public hearing on Nov. 1, Erskine B. Bowles, a co-chairman of Mr. Obama’s fiscal commission, told the panel, “I don’t think you can possibly rewrite the tax law between now and Nov. 23.” But Mr. Bowles said, “We do recommend that you delegate it to the tax-writing committees and set up a framework” for them.
Grover G. Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform, whose antitax pledge has been signed by most Republicans in Congress, said in an interview, “I am not losing any sleep” over the Republicans’ latest proposal. Mr. Norquist said he was confident that, “at the end of the day, the Republican House will not pass a tax increase.”
“As a face-saving measure,” Mr. Norquist said, the deficit reduction panel “could give lots of instructions to the tax-writing committees.” In complying with those instructions, he said, the House and the Senate could pass very different bills.
However, leaders of the tax-writing committees are looking for ways to minimize those differences by requiring some type of prior consultation between the two houses.
Although the deficit reduction panel is supposed to vote on its final report by Nov. 23, it faces a more urgent deadline. The Congressional Budget Office will estimate the impact of its proposals on the federal deficit and debt, and those estimates must be available to panel members at least 48 hours before they vote. The panel would therefore need to settle on its proposals by Nov. 21.
Any recommendations from the deficit reduction panel, including suggested instructions to the tax committees, will be put into a bill. The full House and Senate are supposed to vote on the package, without amendments, by Dec. 23.
Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut, summed up the current situation:
“In the last week, each side has busted through a wall. Democrats are talking about entitlement reform, curbing the increase in spending on mandatory programs like Medicare. Republicans have broken through the wall on tax revenue increases. Now they have to figure out if they can meet each other somewhere in the middle.”
"Lawmakers Concede Budget Talks Are Close to Failure"
The New York Times, November 20, 2011
Conceding that talks on a grand budget deal are near failure, Congressional leaders on Sunday pointed fingers at each other as they tried to deflect blame for their inability to figure out a way to lower the federal deficit without having to rely on automated cuts.
The testy exchanges — which dominated the Sunday talk shows — made clear that leaders in both parties now see the so-called “sequester,” a term meaning an automatic spending cut, as the most likely solution to reduce the federal deficit by $1.2 trillion over 10 years, instead of the negotiated package of spending reductions and tax increases they have been unable to achieve over the last 10 weeks.
Democrats blamed the Republicans for their unwillingness to walk away from a no-new-taxes pact they signed at the request of a conservative, anti-tax group, arguing that the American public realizes that no grand deal could be reached without a combination of spending cuts and new tax revenues.
"Deficit Panel Leaders Fail to Reach Deal"
The New York Times, November 21, 2011
WASHINGTON — After one last bout of fitful but futile talks, Congressional negotiators conceded the obvious: that the joint Congressional committee charged with drafting a deficit reduction package would miss its deadline this week. But they did not quite give up the ghost of a chance that a solution might be found later.
“After months of hard work and intense deliberations, we have come to the conclusion today that it will not be possible to make any bipartisan agreement available to the public before the committee’s deadline,” said a statement issued late in the afternoon by Representative Jeb Hensarling of Texas and Senator Patty Murray of Washington, the panel’s Republican and Democratic co-chairs.
“Despite our inability to bridge the committee’s significant differences, we end this process united in our belief that the nation’s fiscal crisis must be addressed and that we cannot leave it for the next generation to solve,” they said. “We remain hopeful that Congress can build on this committee’s work and can find a way to tackle this issue in a way that works for the American people and our economy.”
"Tom Cole Open To Raising Revenue As Part Of Budget Deal"
The Huffington Post | By Sabrina Siddiqui, 10/25/2013
Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole, one of the key Republican negotiators on a possible budget deal, said Friday that he would support raising revenue and more of his colleagues need to be open to the idea.
"I think both sides would like to deal with the sequester. And we're willing to put more revenue on the table to do that, and we would like to do it with entitlement savings," Cole said on Bloomberg TV's "Political Capital with Al Hunt," adding the GOP was more focused on "pro-growth revenue" as opposed to tax increases.
Cole acknowledged that many of his colleagues have declared any new revenue off the table, but pointed out that in order to get to a deal, both sides would have to give a little.
"Yeah, there are some that feel that way. But, you know, the reality is, you're going to have to have a deal here," he said, when asked about the many Republicans who disagree with his position. "And a deal means everybody gives something up. Now, again, we're much more into what I'd call pro-growth revenue."
Cole is part of the 29-member negotiating committee tasked with reconciling the vastly different Senate and House budgets as part of last week's deal to end the government shutdown and raise the debt limit. The legislation set a deadline of Dec. 13 for conferees to reach an agreement on a long-term framework for tax and spending policies.
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) sought to manage expectations Thursday, focusing the discussion more narrowly on replacing sequestration, the automated budget cuts that took effect in March.
Ryan flatly ruled out tax revenue increases as part of talks, pointing to the tax hike enacted by Congress in January's fiscal-cliff deal. "If people see this conference as an excuse to raise taxes, I don't think it's going to be successful," the former GOP vice presidential nominee told Reuters.
Ryan emphasized the need for Democrats to give in on entitlement reforms -- including changes to Medicare and Social Security -- as a "smarter" way to turn off sequestration. If Democrats didn't agree, Ryan said the fallback position for Republicans would be to maintain the across-the-board spending cuts.
Cole was more keen to replace the sequester, particularly the defense cuts. But he conceded Republicans were unlikely to break if Democrats lay out a condition that they raise tax rates.
"If we're pushed, if it's -- you've got to raise tax rates or something, then, you know, it's pretty easy for Republicans to hold that lower number," Cole said. "They demonstrated from January to March, when the president tried to break them on sequester, that they weren't going to break."
Two leading Democrats on the budget panel, Senate Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray (Wash.) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), have said their party won't consider entitlement reform or cuts to domestic programs if Republicans refuse to raise revenues by closing tax loopholes.
Both Murray and Van Hollen participated in a conference call Friday with President Barack Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), to discuss the pending negotiations. White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters the call was made to reiterate their focus on the middle class and job creation, and that a similar call was not made to Republicans, according to a pool report.
Despite their differences, Cole was optimistic both sides can get to a deal.
"I think so. I think so. I really do," he said, when asked if the odds were greater than 50 percent. "Look, I think the worst thing to do would be another long-term continuing resolution. I mean, that's just a bad way to govern."
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