WASHINGTON -- Bipartisan negotiators are aiming for a final deal on a deficit reduction package by late June, more than a month before the government will default on its debt without Congressional action, Vice President Joseph Biden said Tuesday.
“We pray that, as my grandfather said, by the grace of God, the goodwill of the neighbors and the creek not rising, I think we’re going to be in a position hopefully that by the end of the month … we have something to take to the leaders” and turn into legislation, Biden said.
The vice president talked briefly to reporters after meeting with lawmakers for more than two hours as part of an ongoing effort to reach a deal on a deficit reduction plan by August 2, when the government is on track to default on its debt. The White House has been painting a dire picture of what will happen if Congress doesn’t vote to raise the debt limit, but Republicans have insisted on tying $2.4 trillion in cuts to any vote on a debt hike.
Lawmakers leaving Tuesday’s meeting were mostly mum on what details were discussed, a theme that Biden said is key to the group’s progress on the delicate budget negotiations.
“The only reason this is still working is because I haven’t told you any of those things,” he told reporters. “If I do, every lawyer from K Street will be down here.”
House Budget Committee Ranking Member Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), one of six lawmakers in the meetings, said the group mostly discussed discretionary spending on Tuesday and plans to focus on deficit triggers when it reconvenes Wednesday morning. Under a trigger scenario, if deficits are not stabilized by a certain date, a fail-safe will trigger an across-the-board spending reduction.
“We’re getting into some of the tougher issues,” Van Hollen told reporters, but “the fact is we’re still all friends and talking around the table, so that’s good news.”
Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), another negotiator in the group, concurred that discussions are getting increasingly tricky as lawmakers wade into more tedious aspects of budgeting.
“Some of this stuff is pretty arcane. A lot of budget lingo. It takes time,” he said. “But we’ll get there. I’m confident we’ll get there.”
One of two Republicans in the group, Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.), signaled a growing consensus among negotiators on the need to pass one major deficit reduction package versus a series of small packages.
“You’d like to do it all at once,” Kyl said. “You’d hate to have to come back and do it again.”
Other lawmakers in the group include Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and House Assistant Minority Leader James Clyburn (D-S.C.). Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Office of Management and Budget director Jacob Lew have also been participating, although they weren't spotted Tuesday.
Without giving details, Biden predicted the group is on track to “get well beyond” $1 trillion in cuts as they ramp up the frequency of their meetings to three times a week. Up until last week, the group had been meeting weekly for the past month.
“We all have agreed to just keep this thing going around, you know, the clock, basically,” he said, noting that lawmakers have been giving up time in their districts to stay in Washington for the meetings.
“Somebody has to give up their recess to do this,” Biden said. “Everybody’s in the deal.”