WASHINGTON — In an early show of optimism, Republicans and Democrats on a powerful committee charged with cutting deficits pledged Thursday to aim higher than their $1.2 trillion target, work to boost job creation and reassure the nation that Congress can solve big problems.
Tax reform as well as cuts to benefit programs such as Social Security and Medicare will be among the options considered, members of the so-called supercommittee emphasized, although no specific proposals were debated at an opening session than ran scarcely an hour.
While they readily acknowledged numerous obstacles to a deal, committee members said it was essential to try at a time the economy is weak, joblessness is high and the country gives every sign of intense frustration with its elected leaders.
The panel, co-chaired by Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., lawmakers from opposite ends of the political spectrum hope to help broker a deal somewhere in the middle — on an issue where failure is the rule.
The committee, three members from each party in each house, faces a deadline of Nov. 23. Its most consequential sessions are expected to take place in closed door sessions that will give President Barack Obama and congressional leaders from both parties the opportunity to influence the outcome.
If the committee fails to produce a 10-year package of cuts of at least $1.2 trillion, across-the-board spending cuts would take place that would and simultaneously allow the president to seek another increase in the federal debt limit of the same size.
On the other hand, any agreement on cuts totaling up to $1.5 trillion that are approved by both houses of Congress would permit Obama to request a dollar-for-dollar rise in the debt limit. There is no upper limit to the amount of deficit reductions the panel can recommend.
The committee proceedings were briefly interrupted by demonstrators who shouted "Jobs Now!" in a hallway outside. The group dispersed after police threatened them with arrest.