* No signs of progress with time running out
* Some see 'super committee in 'tailspin'
* Taxes not the only issue
* Members also weigh possible small deal - aide
By Donna Smith and Rachelle Younglai
WASHINGTON, Nov 17 Members of a U.S. Congress
deficit-reduction committee considered scaling back their
efforts on Thursday amid a Republican split over taxes and
mounting doubts of reaching a deal by next week's deadline.
The 12-member "super committee" has until midnight on
Wednesday, the day before the Thanksgiving holiday, to reach a
deal to cut U.S. deficits by at least $1.2 trillion over 10
"I feel we're caught in a tailspin," said a senior aide
familiar with stalled talks.
Voicing the sentiment of many on Capitol Hill, another aide
said: "It doesn't look particularly promising. But this is a
place that works deadline to deadline. We shall see."
If it is unable to do so, automatic spending cuts would
kick in across federal agencies, beginning in January 2013, two
months after next year's election.
Failure to get a deal would likely anger voters who have
been rattled by budget fights this year that brought the
government to the edge of a shutdown and the brink of default.
Congress's approval rating stands at record low levels, and
lawmakers are eager to prove that they are capable of governing
as they head into the 2012 election season.
At the same time, any deal is likely to challenge
orthodoxies on the left and the right.
Democrats have campaigned for decades on a promise to
protect health and pension benefits, while nearly every
Republican in Congress has vowed to oppose tax increases.
With so much distance between themselves on taxes and
spending cuts, the full "super committee" hasn't met in weeks.
POSSIBLE PLAN B
But panel members have held a number of smaller talks among
themselves and with party leaders.
A senior aide said some committee members were meeting just
to discuss whether a broad deal is possible at this late hour.
If they conclude that it is not, talks may enter a new
phase - one that takes taxes and benefit programs off the
negotiating table and puts together a much smaller package
containing measures both sides easily can agree upon.
These could include moves such as more aggressive
government sales of the right to use radio and television
frequencies and cutting federal pensions and some agriculture
The goal would be to limit the severity of automatic
spending cuts that would begin in 2013, with half hitting
domestic programs and the other half hitting defense spending.
If the panel comes up with a plan that does not reach $1.2
trillion, the automatic cuts would kick in for the remaining
Underscoring the difficulties ahead for the super
committee, 72 members of the Republicans' conservative wing
sent a letter to the 12-member panel stating that they would
oppose any tax hike to help close budget gaps that have topped
$1 trillion in each of the past three years.
"Increasing taxes on Americans would destroy jobs, erase
all hope of an economic recovery, and simply serve to feed
out-of-control spending in Washington," the Republican
Republicans on the panel have floated a plan that would
raise about $300 billion in taxes over 10 years, in a softening
of the firm anti-tax stance they have taken in other budget
battles this year.
Polls show most Americans do not expect the panel to get a
deal, and that more would blame Republicans, whose party has
consistently shown resistance to tax hikes.
Democrats say they will not back a plan that consists of
spending cuts alone, and their latest proposal would raise the
government's 10-year tax haul by about $400 billion.
A Democratic aide familiar with the negotiations told
Reuters that unless Republicans come up with a counter-offer to
the Democrats' latest proposal, "We are at a standstill."
Taxes are not the only issue. Republicans want to overhaul
health and retirement benefit programs, while Democrats want to
roll in measures to boost the ailing economy.
Democrats say they cannot go any further on spending cuts
until they know where Republicans stand on taxes.
"I believe we have opened the door to negotiations in these
last final hours," Senator Patty Murray said after meeting with
fellow Democratic super committee members.
"But if they can come to an agreement on their side on
revenue, then we will be able to move forward. And my hope is
that that will happen today," the panel co-chair said.
At his weekly news conference, House Speaker John Boehner,
the top U.S. Republican, said he remains determined to get a
"I'm going to continue to work because the problem is not
going to go away," Boehner said. "If it were easy, it would
have been done a long time ago."