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Congressional Deficit Panel Gridlock Persists as Deadline Nears

November 15, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill still seemed miles apart on a deficit-reduction agreement on Tuesday, with just eight days to go before a self-mandated deadline. Congressional correspondent Kwame Holman reports.
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MARGARET WARNER: Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill still seemed miles apart on a deficit reduction agreement with eight days to go before a self-mandated deadline.

NewsHour congressional correspondent Kwame Holman reports.

KWAME HOLMAN: In the Senate today, party leaders continued to point fingers at each other as the super committee closed in on a week to go to strike a deficit reduction deal.

The majority leader, Democrat Harry Reid, insisted Republicans won’t accept a mix of tax increases and spending cuts.

SEN. HARRY REID, D-Nev., majority leader: So far, I have not seen indication the Republicans are willing to agree to this balanced approach. Democrats are not going to take an unfair, unrealistic load directed toward domestic discretionary spending — or I should say domestic discretionary spending, and take it away from the military.

KWAME HOLMAN: The 12-member committee split evenly between the parties is tasked to find at least $1.2 trillion in deficit cuts over the next decade.

And Senate Republican Lamar Alexander argued his side does want a deal and has made concessions.

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER, R-Tenn.: Republicans have put revenues on the table. Anyone who knows and understands the Republican Party knows that the proposal that was made last week by the Republican members of the super committee represents a substantial departure from what we normally would be comfortable voting for.

KWAME HOLMAN: The super committee has been at work for more than two months, largely out of public view. The members’ mandate is to reach an agreement by Nov. 23. If the panel fails, the same law that created it requires deep automatic cuts in domestic and defense spending beginning in 2013.

That prospect has unnerved Pentagon leaders. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned again Monday of devastating consequences if the automatic cuts go through. In a letter to Republican Sen. John McCain, Panetta said, “We would have the smallest ground force since 1940, the smallest number of ships since 1915, and the smallest Air Force in its history.”

As the deadline looms, it was widely reported the super committee may claim savings of $700 billion no longer needed for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan over the next 10 years. Another proposal up for consideration, a Republican plan for a net tax revenue increase of nearly $300 billion in exchange for lower tax rates.

House Speaker John Boehner called that a fair offer.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio, speaker of the House: I think that reforming our tax code, both on the business side and personal side, will make America more competitive and produce more economic growth. And so I do believe that reforming the code is a step in the right direction. The details of how we get there, frankly, I think are yet to be worked out.

KWAME HOLMAN: But two Republican presidential candidates, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, signaled they wouldn’t like to see any plan that raises taxes.

Meanwhile, there was bipartisan cooperation toward keeping the government operating in the short term. Last night, leaders agreed to spend $180 billion for five Cabinet departments and a stopgap bill to fund government operations through Dec. 16. The current funding runs out at midnight Friday.

JEFFREY BROWN: We talked with one member of the super committee last night, Maryland Democrat Chris Van Hollen. We have extended invitations to all of the Republicans to appear on the NewsHour. None was available this evening, but we hope to bring you an interview with one of them this week.