Leaders join deficit-reduction talks, aides say

Boehner, Reid, McConnell and their staffs are working with super committee members to hammer out a deal.

The super committee's talks are now primarily occurring at the leadership level, according to several committee aides, involving House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and their staffs.

The three congressional leaders are working with super committee members to hammer out a deal. The question now, according to staff, is whether they will get to $1.2 trillion -- going "big" and shooting for a $4 trillion plan is no longer in the cards. In fact, the group may have to settle on savings less than $1.2 trillion and let automatic spending cuts take care of the remaining balance.

But the group is hardly out of the woods-the committee is still at an impasse over tax revenues, though there is a sense talks are accelerating. The GOP members of the committee met with Boehner and McConnell on Thursday in McConnell's office to try to figure out the next step.

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., also indicated the group is stepping up the pace; he said he expects to work through the weekend. He met briefly with Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., on Thursday afternoon in his Capitol hideaway, saying afterward that the two "exchanged ideas."

In another development that bodes poorly for the chances of a large deal, 33 Senate Republicans on Thursday wrote to the super committee members asking them to include no net increase in tax revenue in any legislation they recommend. The group included all three Republican members of the "Gang of Six" senators who proposed a plan over the summer that included a net increase in taxes while cutting some tax rates.

The 33 GOP senators ask that the bill include "comprehensive tax reform that lowers rates and promotes economic growth with no net tax increase." They also ask that the panel "balance our budget within 10 years," put "entitlements on a path to fiscal solvency," and "avoid any further downgrade of our credit rating."

Meanwhile, amid reports of hopeless deadlock, McConnell and super committee aides tried on Thursday to squash rumors that the group would ask for more time to craft a deficit-cutting deal. It now has less than three weeks to produce a final package.

McConnell told The New York Times on Thursday that the deadline "can't be missed" and that "you would have to pass a new law for this deadline to be changed."

An aide to a Democratic committee member was even more blunt, stressing that the committee is not considering asking for more time, period. "Nobody's discussed it, it's not going to happen, it's a total nonstory," the aide told National Journal.

The latest tempest in a teapot -- over whether the panel would ask for more time -- was touched off by an answer House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., gave to a question about the deadline on Wednesday during his weekly meeting with reporters. That vague portion of a response -- a response that included Hoyer adding that the group would need Congress's approval and that as far as he knew, committee members weren't considering it -- was plucked as evidence that the group may seek more time.

Echoing McConnell, a Republican leadership staffer said a delay is unlikely because of the complexity of the Budget Control Act.

The committee would have to appeal to Congress to grant it more time; it could technically use its fast-track authority for a bill extending the deadline, but the bill would need to include language allowing the group to use fast-track authority again for the final package, since it's allowed to use it on one piece of legislation.

The committee has until Nov. 23 to submit to Congress a final package of deficit savings worth $1.2 trillion over 10 years. But it is past its informal deadline to send that package to the Congressional Budget Office so that it can be scored in time.

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