US budget panel heads to the library for some privacy

Tue Sep 20, 2011 4:01pm EDT

* Committee holds first substantive meeting

* Members seek refuge in Library of Congress

* Committee under pressure to come up with deal by Nov. 23

By Richard Cowan and Donna Smith

WASHINGTON, Sept 20 (Reuters) - If location means anything, the congressional "super committee" trying to attack the United States' budget ills appears to be isolating itself from public scrutiny so that it can start thinking big thoughts.

For its second closed-door meeting in a week, the 12 Democrats and Republicans searching for at least $1.2 trillion in savings are gathering in a secluded location -- the Library of Congress across the street from the Capitol.

Those who try to read congressional tea leaves conclude one thing: The super committee is seeking solitude so that members can focus on the task at hand -- producing a credible plan to cut huge U.S. budget deficits by Nov. 23.

On Monday, Republican super committee member Jon Kyl said Tuesday's session would be the first one "about substance." "Presumably we are going to start throwing some ideas out," he said.

Apparently, it is easier to do that somewhere other than the Capitol building where journalists and lobbyists crowd the corridors.

An aide to one super committee member, however, denied the the meeting's location was aimed at keeping curious onlookers at bay.

"The members of the committee were looking for a room to continue their bipartisan discussions in, and this one was as good as any other," the aide insisted.

The panel was planning a three-hour long discussion, according to congressional sources, as Capitol Hill police kept journalists away from the corridor where they gathered in the ornate building.

With more than 33 million books and printed materials, the Library of Congress is the world's largest library.

The bipartisan special committee, born out of an August deal to raise the U.S. borrowing authority, is walking a tightrope.

There are deep party divisions over the best way to reduce budget deficits, raising questions over whether it will be able to cut a deal by its Thanksgiving deadline.

But there is plenty of pressure to do so.

IMF WARNING

The International Monetary Fund on Tuesday revised downward its forecast for U.S. economic growth to 1.5 percent this year and 1.8 percent next year, down from June forecasts of 2.5 percent and 2.7 percent respectively.

The IMF warned that a painfully slow U.S. economic recovery could be threatened if Washington failed to produce a credible plan to cut government borrowing in the medium term.

If it was not enough to have hordes of journalists dogging their every move, lobbyists calling them and the IMF piling on pressure, politicians no less prominent than President Barack Obama and House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner are trying to influence them.

On Monday, Obama delivered to the super committee his own, ideas for cutting deficits -- about $3 trillion in savings through a combination of tax hikes and spending cuts. The plan was accompanied by a warning: Obama said he would veto any deficit reduction bill that cuts the Medicare healthcare program for the elderly without increasing taxes on wealthier Americans and corporations.

Boehner, the top U.S. Republican, last week drew his own line in the sand: No tax increases.

The super committee is being watched from by credit ratings agencies, such as Standard and Poor's, which last month cut the government's coveted AAA bond rating and and voiced concern Washington was too divided to tackle its deficit problem.

The agencies want the super committee goes way beyond its minimum requirement of $1.2 trillion in new savings.

Amid all these external pressures, super committee members say they have agreed that clamming up and not negotiating a budget deal in public is the only way to move forward.

(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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