By Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Republican head of a special deficit-reduction panel in Congress said on Tuesday he was hopeful that at least some modest steps can be achieved by a November 23 deadline.
There has been growing uncertainty about how much the committee can achieve and there have been few signs of progress so far, raising questions about its ability to reach the minimum target of at least $1.2 trillion in budget savings over 10 years.
"I remain hopeful that the Joint Select Committee can show progress on a bipartisan basis of at least taking a few steps down the road of fiscal sustainability," Republican Representative Jeb Hensarling told Reuters in an interview.
The 12 Democratic and Republican members of the so-called "super committee" have been negotiating behind closed doors since early September in an effort to find ways of slashing huge U.S. deficits amid a stubbornly weak economic recovery.
Investors have been hoping the committee exceeds its minimum requirement of $1.2 trillion and finds more like $2 trillion to $3 trillion in savings. It would take significant political concessions from Democrats and Republicans to strike a multitrillion-dollar deal.
While Hensarling's remarks referred to modest steps, he stressed that much more was needed to reverse huge budget deficits that began during President George W. Bush's administration and widened under President Barack Obama.
"A trillion and a half dollars of deficit reduction over 10 years, although better than a rounding error, is woefully, woefully, inadequate," Hensarling said.
He added that "quality" government healthcare and retirement programs ultimately will have to be set at "a price that doesn't bankrupt our children and mortgage our futures."
At a press briefing following a meeting of House of Representatives Republican leaders, Hensarling was asked whether recent media reports of scant progress within the super committee were accurate and whether its November 23 deadline could still be met.
"Until the stroke of midnight on November 22, we still have plenty of time to reach an agreement," Hensarling answered.
(Additional reporting by Thomas Ferraro; Editing by Eric Beech)