POLITICS

A New Debt Ceiling Supercommittee? Republicans Plan Negotiating Team To End Stalemate

10/08/2013 11:59 am 11:59:37 | Updated Oct 08, 2013

WASHINGTON -- House Republicans are set to unveil a new strategy -- one that sounds startlingly like 2011's supercommittee -- to deal with both the federal government shutdown and the looming debt limit crisis.

House leadership aides said that the idea is to pass two bills: One would ensure that government workers who are still on the job but aren't getting paid will get their checks on time; the other would create a bipartisan negotiating team of House and Senate members that would start work as soon as possible to address the debt limit.

The likely outlines of what any such group could produce were not entirely clear, but it would seem to be somewhat less super than the 2011 body, as it would lack the previous group's binding authority, which left the nation with sequestration.

The new group would have 20 members, 10 each from the House and Senate, with the majority in each chamber getting six seats, and the minority four.

The job would be to recommend overall levels of discretionary spending, including for the current fiscal year, which started with the government shutdown on Oct. 1. It would also recommend changes in the debt limit and reforms in direct spending programs. Tax reform is not included in its purview, meaning that even if Democrats bit on the idea, revenue would not be up for debate.

The group would have to meet daily until it arrived at a final product.

A Senate Democratic leadership aide's quick response was dismissive, suggesting the plan sounds like a repackaging of bills the House has previously passed -- and the Senate has so far spurned -- to pay federal employees and appoint a conference committee on the continuing resolution.

"This is not going to happen. We are happy to negotiate, but first Speaker Boehner should open the government and work with us to guarantee we pay our bills," the aide said.

Still, House aides said they would move ahead with the two new bills, pass them, then send them over to the Senate as a merged measure. One of the leaders in the push is House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), who wrote the pay portion.

An aide said they were not calling the new body a "super committee." Another emphasized it was simply a "negotiating team."

The GOP aides suggested it would be difficult for Democrats to reject the measure because all sides agree in principle that federal workers should get paid.

"Will Sen. Reid really deny workers a paycheck in order to avoid sitting down at a table with Republicans and simply talking?" one said in a brief memo about the new proposal.

The House Budget Committee's top Democrat, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.) reacted to the proposal, saying, "Democrats have always supported a forum for resolving our long-term deficit issues in a balanced way. But first we must stop the shutdown and ensure we pay our country's bills on time. If House Republicans were willing to release those two hostages, we could open the government today and sit down to hammer out a compromise. But in the end, the GOP isn't even proposing to do that with this so-called supercommittee. They claim they want to talk about deficit reduction, but their bill immediately rules out talking about closing tax loopholes to help get our fiscal house in order. It's just more of the same from Speaker Boehner and his tea party caucus.”

This article has been updated with additional details about the GOP's proposal, and with comment from Van Hollen.

Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.

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