House Speaker John Boehner said Monday that he has high hopes that a congressional "supercommittee" will be able to reach common ground on a plan to cut the deficit by at least $1.2 trillion over a decade.
But the most powerful Republican in Washington says that finding common ground doesn't necessarily mean compromising one's principles, a none-too-subtle hint that he remains strongly opposed to increasing taxes as part of the solution to deficits exceeding $1 trillion a year.
"Common ground doesn't mean compromising on your principles," Boehner said in a speech to a group of students at the University of Louisville. "Common ground means finding the places where your agenda overlaps with that of the other party."
Boehner's remarks came as the secretive 12-member bipartisan panel remains deadlocked less than a month before its deadline. Democrats say tax revenues are a precursor to any agreement to curb spending on costly benefits programs like Medicare. Republicans insist the supercommittee focus on cutting spending and that new revenues should come from proposals like raising Medicare premiums, asking federal workers to contribute more toward their pensions and through the economic growth associated with reforming the tax code.
"Nobody thought the committee's job will be easy, and it hasn't been. No one is surprised by that," said Boehner, R-Ohio. "But I have high hopes that in the weeks ahead this panel will find common ground."
While Boehner is not a member of the deficit supercommittee, he remains a key figure in the debate; the chances of the committee's success may depend upon whether he and top Democrats like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada can prevail upon their appointees to the panel to move off of long-established positions.
Last week, Democrats offered a plan to cut the deficit by about $3 trillion over the coming decade, including $1.3 trillion in increased tax revenue. Republicans countered with a $2.2 trillion plan free of tax hikes but heavier on cuts to Medicare beneficiaries.
Boehner and President Barack Obama participated in discussions this summer on a deficit bargain in the neighborhood of $4 trillion over the coming decade, but talks fell apart over taxes and cuts to benefit programs like Medicare and Medicaid. In those discussions, conducted as part of legislation to raise the government's borrowing cap, Boehner entertained up to $800 billion in 10-year revenue increases as part of a complete overhaul of the tax code.
Instead, Boehner and Obama settled for $900 billion in spending cuts over 10 years to agency budgets and the promise of $1.2 trillion or more to come from the debt supercommittee, which faces a Thanksgiving deadline to recommend a deficit plan. Boehner called on the panel to address the long-term costs of so-called entitlement programs like Medicare.
"Everyone knows we can't solve the debt crisis without making structural changes to our entitlement programs. You know it. I know it. President Obama knows it," Boehner said. "Nothing _ nothing _ would send a more reassuring message to the markets than taking bipartisan steps to fix the structural problems in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security."