WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republicans on a debt-cutting “super committee” must agree to more revenue increases and Democrats to bigger cuts to social programs if there is to be any chance of a deal, a top Republican said on Wednesday.
“They’re at the point where there’s either about to be a big revelation or a big failure,” Senator Lamar Alexander, a member of the Senate Republican leadership, told the Reuters Washington Summit.
“They’re about to get to the top of the mountain or fall off a cliff. And that’s going to happen by the end of the week.”
He spoke a day after Democrats on the 12-member congressional super committee rejected Republicans’ latest deficit-cutting proposal as insufficient.
Alexander, who is stepping down as the number three Senate Republican next month, said there was “an obvious path ahead” for the committee as it strives to meet its November 23 target date to find $1.2 trillion in deficit cuts over 10 years.
“And that is for Republicans to put more revenues on the table and Democrats to put more entitlements on the table.”
Alexander said Democrats on the panel need to address ways to rein in the costs of Medicare, the popular government-run healthcare insurance program for the elderly and disabled.
“I think many Republicans are perfectly willing, if we get significant entitlement reform, to lower the tax rates, close loopholes and use the savings partly to reduce rates and partly to reduce debt. That’s one way you could get new revenues which could help reduce debt -- and there’s a lot there.”
Alexander said there were $1.2 trillion annually in loopholes and deductions within the U.S. tax code that could be eliminated.
45 SENATORS “GO BIG”
The committee, tasked with cutting U.S. deficits by $1.2 trillion by November 23, could take a third of that to help reduce the national debt -- now more than $14.3 trillion.
He said he met Tuesday with many of the 45 senators who have urged the committee to strike a bold deal of at least $4 trillion in savings, far more than its mandated target.
“Our message to the super committee this week, which is a crucial week, is number one: ‘failure is absolutely not an option. We want to support your result, find one.'”
Alexander said panel members had expressed pessimism about the chances of a deal last week, but Tuesday there was “a little more optimism and some pessimism.”
The Tennessee Republican did not explain why he believed the committee had until only week’s end to agree on a plan.
But if the super committee can reach a tentative deal in the coming days, it would give congressional leaders time to try to sell it to their rank-and-file. Congress must vote on any plan by December 23.
The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has also said it needs time to “score” the deal before the November 23 deadline, a necessary step before Congress votes on it.
But if the super committee does not seal a deal by the end of this week, negotiations are expected to continue.
A senior Senate Democratic aide downplayed the notion of an unofficial week‘s-end deadline, saying the negotiations likely will continue through the week of Nov 19.
If the six Republicans and six Democrats on the panel fail to reach a deal, or if Congress blocks one, automatic spending cuts of $1.2 trillion will begin in 2013.
The committee’s negotiations hit a bump Tuesday when Democrats on the panel rejected a Republican plan to raise additional tax revenues but at the same time deliver new tax cuts to the wealthy.
Democratic aides said the Republican proposal involved limiting some tax deductions but the added revenues would amount to $250 billion over 10 years.
Alexander repeatedly expressed disappointment with what he called President Barack Obama’s lack of leadership on reducing the country’s deficits.
“Congress are like cattle milling around in a field. We’re waiting for someone to show the way. That’s the way our political system works,” he said.
Additional reporting by Deborah Charles, Susan Cornwell, Richard Cowan and Donna Smith, editing by Ross Colvin and Jackie Frank