WASHINGTON — The debt reduction “supercommittee” was Sen. Harry Reid’s baby. He conceived it over the summer as a possible breakthrough in resolving the government’s seemingly intractable deficit problems.
But on Tuesday, the Senate majority leader sounded more like a disappointed parent. His once bright view was now dimmed as the committee is mired a week before a Nov. 23 deadline.
“This was my idea,” Reid, D-Nev., said of the 12-member House-Senate panel, which was given authority to put together a $1.2 trillion deficit reduction plan and get it fast-tracked to final votes by Christmas.
“I would have hoped because we have an obligation to do something about the debt; I was hoping there would be a lot of hand-holding, hugs and pats on the back, and we would be headed home for Thanksgiving,” Reid said.
“But at this stage, we have seen two arm locks, and two … what do you call them? Locks around the neck. Headlocks.
“Congress and the government generally don’t do things until the last minute, but the last minute is fast approaching. I hope we can get this done. I have no regrets whatsoever about the suggestion of the supercommittee.”
Reid’s downcast assessment came as Democrats and Republicans remained at loggerheads over the mix of tax increases, spending cuts and changes in entitlement programs, such as Medicare and Social Security, that would be necessary to meet the committee’s debt goals.
Failure to enact a debt plan would trigger $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts to defense and nondefense programs that would take effect starting in 2013.
Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, co-chairman of the deficit panel, said the divided group is still working in hopes of reaching an agreement.
“They haven’t thrown me out, so I guess I got a good reception,” Hensarling said of how House Republicans reacted to a status report he gave them Tuesday on supercommittee talks. “I gave them an update, I told them we haven’t lost hope yet, but … this week is crucial.”
The panel faces an official target of Nov. 23 to approve a plan, but sometime this week is a more realistic deadline, given the realities of drafting proposals into legal language and getting them “scored” by congressional analysts to measure their impact on the deficit.
With time growing short, Reid and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, met Tuesday morning on the panel’s work. It’s likely to require a push from such top leaders to help break the impasse.
Democrats are unwilling to agree to cuts in benefit programs unless Republicans will accept higher taxes, particularly on the highest-income individuals and families.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-783-1760.