WASHINGTON — Democratic Reps. Collin Peterson and Tim Walz are among 100 House members to sign a letter urging the deficit reduction “super committee” to craft a $4 trillion package made up of revenue increases and entitlement spending cuts.
The bipartisan group of lawmakers released the three-paragraph letter on Wednesday, three weeks before the Nov. 23 deadline for the 12-member super committee to pass a plan. The letter asks the committee to consider a $4 trillion deficit reduction package, far larger than the $1.2 trillion deal required by this summer’s debt limit increase deal.
“To succeed, all options for mandatory and discretionary spending and revenues must be on the table,” the letter said. “We know from other bipartisan frameworks that a target of some $4 trillion in deficit reduction is necessary to stabilize our debt as a share of the economy and assure America’s well-being.”
That line refers to the Simpson-Bowles commission, which last year recommended that Congress find $4 trillion to put toward deficit relief. The pair, a former Republican senator and President Bill Clinton’s chief of staff, testified before the super committee on Tuesday, insisting that both tax increases and entitlement reform be a part of a final plan.
Despite the bipartisan nature of the letter, there is still little to indicate Republicans and Democrats can find middle ground acceptable to enough members of both parties to pass such a big package. Partisan hard-liners are vehemently opposed to tax increases (Republicans) or spending cuts to Social Security or Medicare (Democrats), meaning a large, unified group of moderates would be needed to a pass a grand plan similar to the one called for in this letter.
And even if every single letter signer voted for a package similar to the one they call for, they’d still need to convince 118 additional members to support the plan to ensure its passage.
But even the coalition of signatories isn’t guaranteed to agree on the exact measures such a large package would require. Take the ambiguity of the word “revenues” in the letter — that doesn’t necessarily mean the 40 Republican signers have opened the door to tax increases. The Hill newspaper, for example, notes that Republican Ron Paul, a signer and a presidential candidate, remains opposed to tax increases but “he is willing to consider any major tax reform proposals that could simplify the code and reduce compliance costs,” according to a spokeswoman.
Regardless, Rep. Steny Hoyer, the Democratic whip and highest-ranking lawmaker to sign the letter, told MSNBC this morning that he’s confident the committee will agree on a major package.
“I am hopeful given the weight of responsibility that we placed on their shoulders and given the critical nature of achieving the objective of a big deal and doing it within a near term that they will come to agreement,” he said “It’s obviously been tough. Obviously both sides have sort of hardened positions. But it is absolutely essential in the opinion of a lot of people around this country and a large number of members of the House and Senate that we come to agreement.”
The letter was originally circulated by Reps. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) and Heath Shuler (D-N.C.), a member of the House Blue Dog Coalition of moderate Democrats. Peterson is also a member of the caucus.
Both Peterson and Walz are members of the House Agriculture Committee, which is set to recommend about $23 billion in mandatory agriculture spending cuts for the purpose of deficit reduction. The committee was set to release details of that plan this week, but the announcement was delayed.
The super committee must pass a deficit reduction plan before Nov. 23 and Congress has a Dec. 23 deadline for approving it. If Congress does not, deep cuts to defense and social safety net programs take effect.
Devin Henry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @dhenry