House Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi say they continue to hold out hope for the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction — also called the supercommittee – to reach a deal to cut another $1.5 trillion from the deficit over the next decade, but both leaders continue to guard two issues at the crux of the debate: taxes and entitlements.
“I’m originally from Maryland, and we speak in racetrack terms there. We’re in the stretch,” Pelosi, D-Calif., said. “Democrats continue to be committed to big, bold and balanced in terms of a proposal that could come out of there.”
With less than a week until the Nov. 23 deadline, across the aisle the speaker said he is still working toward a successful outcome. “I’m going to continue to work, because the problem is not going to go away,” Boehner, R-Ohio, pledged. “Our debt crossed the $15 trillion number yesterday. That ought to be a giant wake-up call to the Congress that it’s time to rip the Band-aid off and do what needs to be done.”
Pelosi said she does not know whether a deal “can be as big and bold as I’d like,” but she said she hoped “that it will be balanced because that’s the only way that we will be able to reach agreement.”
“I’m still optimistic, but … I’m realistic as well,” she said. “It’s about jobs and entrepreneurial spirit. It’s about having savings, real savings and with taking nothing off the table as we address that. And it’s about revenue, about everybody taking responsibility, and that revenue piece seems to be the stumbling block for the Republicans.”
Boehner, who is celebrating his 62 birthday today, contends that the only offer on the table is a Republican bid, but he said he remains hopeful for a Democratic counteroffer.
“[Democrats] are well aware of what we’re willing to do, but you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink,” Boehner said. “The problem we’ve had all year is getting to yes. We’ve never gotten the Democrats, whether it was the White House or where we are today — we’ve never gotten to a point where there was yes. They never really put paper on the table. It’s very frustrating.” “There have been discussions amongst individual members, but it’s very clear to me that there’s never been a Democrat position — not one,” Boehner said. ”I know we’re late in the game. I believe all the members — Democrats and Republicans, House and Senate — have worked very diligently, and I suspect they’ll continue to work diligently, because this problem needs to be solved.”
Asked whether Democrats should offer the GOP more entitlement cuts to entice Republicans to put more tax revenue on the table, Pelosi pointed to the president’s negotiations with Boehner last summer on a Grand Bargain as proof that Democrats are willing to compromise.
“We already have gone down this path, a half of trillion dollars in savings to strengthen Medicare,” she said. “The speaker has said that the Bush tax cuts must be extended, that repealing those cannot be part of the plan. So if the plan is to extend the Bush tax cuts and to repeal the Medicare guarantee for our seniors, well, that’s not balanced and that’s a place we cannot go.”
Pelosi dismissed the suggestion that the sequestration cuts are more palatable to Democrats than working out a bipartisan deal, and the House Democratic leader reminded reporters that Congress has already reached a deal to cut $2.5 trillion.
“I don’t want [sequestration] to happen. We’ve been working very hard for it not to,” Pelosi said. “There’s a better way to do it than the sequestration, but the sequestration is part of the legislation and that’s what we will follow.” “The sequester is ugly,” Boehner agreed. “It was designed to be ugly because we didn’t want anybody to go there, and I’m going to do everything I can to ensure that we don’t go there.”
Pelosi said that the sequester “is what it is” but the supercommittee “has extraordinary power” to provide the path for long-term deficit reduction.
“We should do it right now because the American people can’t wait. They need jobs, and that should be the starting point for this committee,” she said. “If [Republicans] refuse to take one red cent from the wealthiest people in our country and the price we have to pay is a diminished defense and diminished strength of our country, I think that’s something really.” Boehner also maintained that the committee should not count savings anticipated from winding down the wars in Afghanistan as revenue to offset the deficit.
“We’re going to do this in a fiscally-sound way,” he said. “Those savings that are coming to us as a result of the wind-down of the war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan … should be banked, should not be used to offset other spending.”