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White House: Too Soon to Write off U.S. Debt Panel

Thursday, 03 Nov 2011 02:33 PM

 

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* No signs of an outline for a plan

* Leading House Democrat says expectations are low

By Caren Bohan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House still has hopes for a congressional deal to cut the U.S. budget deficit, despite a looming Nov. 23 deadline and low expectations from the 12-member "super committee" charged with making a deal.

Many in Washington are growing increasingly pessimistic about the prospects for an agreement among the Democratic and Republican lawmakers on the special budget panel.

But White House budget director Jack Lew said Wednesday he has been in regular contact with the panel's members and viewed such prognostications as premature.

"I think that we have a habit in Washington of trying to write obituaries while the patient is still fighting," Lew said at a Politico Playbook breakfast. "I do live my life as an optimist."

With the panel's deadline for reaching an agreement only three weeks away, there is no visible sign yet of a plan or even the outline of one.

On Wednesday, Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the House of Representatives, described expectations for the super committee's success as low.

The legislation that established the panel of six Democrats and six Republicans requires agreement on at least $1.2 trillion in budget savings over 10 years to avoid setting off automatic budget "triggers" that would force deep cuts in both domestic and defense programs.

Revenue increases are at the heart of the super committee's logjam. Democrats insist they must be part of any deficit reduction deal but Republicans are so far sticking to their resistance to higher taxes.

Under a separate process, the U.S. Congress -- where Republicans control the House and Democrats have a majority in the Senate -- also must agree on bills to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year that started Oct. 1.

A bill was passed in early October to keep the government funded temporarily but that expires on Nov. 18.

Asked if he was worried about a government shutdown if Congress cannot pass the bills at the end of the year, Lew said he was hopeful that could be avoided.

"There is a risk," he said. "There's no doubt that this could become another one those ideological conflicts. It shouldn't." (Writing by Caren Bohan; Editing by Bill Trott)

© 2014 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

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