Around the Capitol this afternoon, it certainly feels like the Friday before a deadline.
Late today, Republicans on the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, along with Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, offered a “last-ditch, “plan B” proposal to Democrats, in case the negotiators on the so-called “supercommittee” fail to reach their target.
A Republican aide said the plan was “designed to be the lowest of the low-hanging fruit, stuff that everyone agrees on,” so that if supercommittee members fail to reach the big agreement at least there will be something left to salvage.
The Republican plan, as offered late today to Democrats, is well below the mandated $1.2 trillion cuts the committee is supposed to come up with.
The plan calls for $643 billion in cuts over the next decade, including $229 billion in additional revenues and $316 billion in spending cuts. The plan does not touch Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid. To entice Democrats further, the Republican plan closes the corporate jet tax loophole.
Republican aides said the plan draws directly from former debt groups like Simpson/Bowles and Rivlin/Domenici. Aides stressed that even while they were offering the contingency plan, Republicans still continued to search for a way forward to achieve $1.2 trillion or more in deficit reduction, but this offer should serve as a back-up plan.
But Democrats were not buying it, and immediately rejected the Republican proposal today.
“From what I’ve heard, it does not meet, even close to coming to meet, the issues that we set out from the beginning: fair and balanced,” a visibly frustrated Sen. Patty Murray, Democratic co-chairwoman of the supercommittee, said today. “The wealthiest among us need to participate and we are still waiting for a revenue plan from the Republicans that meets that test.”
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., essentially mocked the Republican offer, noting that it falls far short of the primary goal of the committee.
“We were sent here to do $1.2 trillion or $1.5 trillion or $4 trillion, so the idea on Friday of settling for half of what the American people need, what we were sent here to do, is unacceptable to me,” Kerry said, leaving a private meeting this afternoon. “I think the American people, on its face, can tell that that does not meet any standard of fairness, any standard of common sense.”
Both Murray and Kerry, two of the most outspoken Democrats on the supercommittee with a large role in the negotiations, seemed visibly frustrated, exhausted and unsure now of the way forward.
“This is the divide right now and we’re still working,” said Kerry, “I hope we can get there, but I don’t know.”
With nearly all members of Congress home now for the Thanksgiving holiday, the members of the supercommittee will continue working through the weekend in order to get a deal by next week. While the deadline for a deal is Wednesday, the group knows it needs to get a proposal to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office by Monday, at the latest, to be scored and voted on in time.
Leaving Capitol Hill tonight, one Republican on the exclusive panel expressed uncertainty on the path ahead.
“I don’t have as much hope as I did last week, but we talked again today,” said Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz. “You know, deadlines have a way of focusing your attention, so … we’re going to keep talking.”