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Boehner Optimistic About Deficit Panel

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said today that if the super committee comes to a deficit reduction agreement by its Nov. 23 deadline, it would pass Congress.

The Speaker, who twice walked away from negotiations for a sweeping deal with President Barack Obama this summer, has been one of the most vocal advocates of the panel’s work. In a media availability following a meeting with his caucus today, Boehner reiterated that he is hopeful for agreement, and he emphasized his support for tax code reform, such as the plan proffered by super committee member Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.). Taking on taxes has been taboo in the GOP Conference, especially in the House, where a conservative bloc has been reticent to consider anything that might be construed as an increase.

“Both Democrats and Republicans — they’ve all done good work — and they’ve worked very hard. But there isn’t an agreement and I’m convinced that if there is, in fact, an agreement, that it would pass,” Boehner said, before praising a $1.2 trillion GOP plan that included $250 billion in tax code reform. “I think the offer that the Republicans put on the table is a fair offer — Toomey, something like Toomey. It’s important for us to, in my opinion, reform the tax code.”

The Ohio Republican called the Toomey plan “a step in the right direction,” but he noted “the details of how to get there are yet to be worked out.”

Super committee members have been in intense discussions over how to balance tax increases with cuts to entitlements, but Boehner also said the panel members are negotiating some job creation measures. However, it is unclear to what extent they are doing so, particularly with a week until their deadline and the major issues still unresolved.

Boehner said those job-creating issues, such as extending the payroll tax holiday, “are currently under discussion between members of the super committee as part of some options that they’re considering.” The Speaker’s characterization of such talks matched statements made late Monday night by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to a small group of reporters near the House chamber.

“Yes, that’s my understanding,” Pelosi said of jobs initiatives being included in the super committee talks. “I don’t really know because I’m not in the room, but I know that’s part of the priorities of our House Democrats — and the president’s [jobs] proposal.”

Meanwhile, Members have begun to discuss the contours of a final agreement. To date, Republicans and Democrats have traded partisan offers in order to stake out their positions. But instead of exchanging more plans, Members have entered a new phase where they are trying to figure out where the compromise between the party positions is. Democrats had been prepared Monday night to come back at Republicans with a plan that included $600 billion to $800 billion in revenues, a drop from their most recent pitch, but it was unclear this morning whether that offer was one Democrats actually will make.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) today agreed that talks were taking a different track: “I think at this stage you have people trying to explore all the different avenues that might be able to bridge the differences. We’ll have to see if we’ll get there, but people are making that effort every day.”

Despite what appears to be modest progress on coming to agreement, it is not clear when the panel will meet again as a full group. All 12 members of the super committee have not met behind closed doors since Oct. 31, but small groups and one-on-one meetings have been happening at a fever pitch. Monday night, Hollen met with House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) for about an hour in Camp’s Capitol office. Though the two would not discuss the nature of their meeting, Camp has been negotiating a potential way forward on revenues with his Senate counterpart and fellow super committee member Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who is Senate Finance chairman.

If it’s true that negotiations are entering a more intense, and less pingpong-like phase, the panel likely will have to reconvene as a full group soon. According to the sources close to the committee, Co-Chairmen Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) will have to announce a markup for any deal 48 hours in advance, not a week in advance as required for public hearings of the panel.

Also, Tuesday, Hensarling updated House Republicans on the status of negotiations.

A number of Members had hoped Hensarling would use the weekly Conference meeting to provide a detailed explanation of where the talks stand and the outstanding issues. But the Texas Republican stuck to his pattern of giving a vague readout during his 20-minute presentation, Republicans in the room said, with one explaining he essentially repeated the routine he used this past Sunday on morning news shows.

“He even used the same jokes,” one Republican said.

Most Republicans, particularly Congressional veterans, seemed content to let Hensarling and his colleagues negotiate behind the scenes.

“The problem they’ve got is anything you say can be twisted and misconstrued … not by the other 11 members in the room, but by their friends outside,” said Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), who acknowledged Hensarling has kept his statements to the conference “opaque.”

On the Democratic side, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer strongly rejected growing whispers from Republicans that House Democrats are purposefully attempting to scuttle the talks.

The Maryland Democrat called failure “inappropriate and irrational” and insisted he and Pelosi are firmly behind getting a deal.

“The leader does not believe [in failure] either. Mrs. Pelosi and I agree on this. Sequestration is not an option,” Hoyer said, referencing the automatic spending cuts to defense and domestic programs that will take place if the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction fails to produce a deal.

Hoyer also said that neither he nor Pelosi is working on a Plan B messaging strategy to try to pin the blame for failure on Republicans, arguing “blame will be somewhat irrelevant if the committee doesn’t succeed” because of the global economic consequences.

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