Sat, Oct 29, 2011 - Page 7 News List

Election worries give momentum to US deficit talks

Reuters, Washington

The congressional “super committee” charged with slashing the US deficit has heard from legions of lobbyists and lawmakers bent on influencing the outcome. Now members are getting an earful from Republican and Democratic leaders who want them to reach a deal and help restore voters’ faith in Congress before next year’s elections.

The panel’s six Republicans and six Democrats are under pressure to avoid a deadlock that could further anger voters fed up with the partisan gridlock that has plagued major legislation since US President Barack Obama took office in January 2009, according to aides, analysts, lawmakers and lobbyists.

House Speaker John Boehner, the top Republican, and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell want a deal, figuring it would be smart politically as well as vital to the country’s fiscal well-being, aides said.

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi make the same point.

The committee faces a Nov. 23 deadline to come up with a package to reduce the deficit by at least US$1.2 trillion over 10 years. A deadlock would trigger automatic cuts spread evenly between defense and domestic programs.

Recent opinion polls show public approval of Congress as low as 9 percent, with data suggesting that Republicans and Democrats are equally disillusioned with the inability of lawmakers to work together.

Yet, for all the cheerleading from the top brass of both parties, the two sides are still far apart.

Some Democrats have questioned the sincerity of Republicans because of their refusal to consider tax hikes as part of any sweeping deficit-reduction agreement. Republicans say tax increases would undermine job growth.

Analysts say deadlock in the committee would likely further disillusion Americans, already frustrated by Washington’s inability to agree on even the most simple issues. That could contribute to voter apathy next year and hit both parties hard.

Lobbyists say McConnell has been at the forefront of behind-the-scenes efforts to reach a consensus, partly because of his hopes of capturing the Senate in next year’s elections.

The possibility of a “grand bargain” on taxes and spending on popular social programs came up at a meeting last week among McConnell, Boehner and Reid, a congressional aide said.

“But it was Reid’s sense that the Republicans still weren’t ready to move on [tax] revenues,” the aide said. “Reid feels it’s impossible to have a deal without serious movement on revenues.”

House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer contends all sides must try harder.

“I’m not optimistic. I am hopeful. I hope because I think it is absolutely essential that we succeed in producing a product, producing a product that is a big deal,” Hoyer said.

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