NPR logo Hope Lives For Super Panel's Success Despite Gridlock

Hope Lives For Super Panel's Success Despite Gridlock

If second marriages are the triumph of hope over experience, so is the belief that the congressional deficit super committee in a city riven by partisan distrust will reach agreement on spending cuts by its deadline now only three weeks away.

Not everyone is optimistic, of course. Recent reports suggesting that the super committee members were stuck because of Republican resistance to raising taxes, period, have left many with a sense of impending failure.

Indeed, a reporter on Thursday implored Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader, to give him and other journalistic cynics a reason, any reason, for hope.

REPORTER: ... Some of the information that is leaking out of the committee doesn't appear to be encouraging at all.


REPORTER: And I'm wondering if there's anything at all that you can say that would help instill a little more confidence in those of us who are covering it — and the American people.

Pelosi didn't make any promises. And neither did Speaker John Boehner, for that matter. But they were definitely keeping hope alive.

Boehner, while not exactly sunny with optimism, was cautiously upbeat. Despite all the talk of a partisan logjam over taxes, he said he's open to revenue increases so long as certain conditions are met.

At his weekly Thursday news conference with reporters, he stressed that he wants the panel of 12 lawmakers split equally between Republicans and Democrats:

We have to come to an agreement. We have — we — it is important for the supercommittee to succeed. And we've got Democrats and Republicans on this committee who have worked diligently over the last several months to try to come to an agreement.

Fueling even more hope was the way Boehner left the door cracked for conditions-based revenue increases.

The Associated Press reported:

House Speaker John Boehner said Thursday that "there's room for revenue" as a congressional deficit-reduction supercommittee seeks $1.2 trillion or more in deficit cuts over the coming decade. But he says it would require a major overhaul of government benefit programs.

"Without real reform on the entitlement side, I'm not even going to put any new revenue on the table," Boehner said. Entitlement programs include Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Boehner says he remains committed to helping the deficit panel succeed and that Congress should approve its recommendations if it produces a plan to curb the government's gush of red ink.

"I didn't agree to set this thing up with any idea that it wouldn't succeed," Boehner said. "d love to exceed the goal, but we have to meet the goal, and I'm going to put every ounce of effort in to make sure that we do."

Boehner was asked about the Wednesday letter from the 100 House members — 60 Democrats and 40 Republicans — calling for the super committee to put everything on the table. Boehner said:

"... I appreciate their interest, their concern and their help in trying to make sure that we get to an outcome."

Meanwhile, Pelosi made some of the same noises. At her weekly briefing with reporters, she said:

I'm hopeful that the time that they are taking is time that is bringing us closer to a consensus. As I've — we've discussed before, I have not put any lines in the sand. We've said if it's big, bold and balanced, many things are possible to reduce the deficit in a very significant way to take us into the future, you know, a path of prosperity honoring the entrepreneurial spirit of America.
So we're optimistic that something can be done.

Jack Lew, director of the Obama Administration's Office of Management and Budget and a long-time veteran of Washington's budget wars, was staying positive as well.

Politico reported on Lew's appearance at an event it hosted Thursday:

"We have a habit in Washington of trying to write obituaries while the patient is still fighting," Lew said at a POLITICO Playbook Breakfast at the Newseum. "The supercommittee isn't done. There is no major undertaking where a few weeks out we have been able to accurately predict whether it would work, whether it wouldn't work."

Of course, it wasn't so much optimism as fear that was the great motivator of the moment. Hanging over everyone's heads, obviously, were fears of what could happen if the super committee doesn't reach an agreement.

There's general agreement that it would be best to avoid the $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts that would occur if the super committee members fail at their task.

Responding to talk by some lawmakers, like Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), that they might keep the automatic cuts from happening because of the feared effects on the military, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget's blog warned against that:

Moody's outlook on U.S. debt is already "negative," so overriding the trigger, which some lawmakers have already supported, could in fact prompt a downgrade.