A somewhat clandestine, bipartisan group of House and Senate members -- including influential leaders like minority Whip Steny Hoyer -- is assembling a significant deficit reduction bill, with the goal of addressing divisive issues like taxes and federal health care programs before the November elections.
The group will face massive institutional hurdles, particularly among GOP leaders who persist in using structural fiscal imbalances as a means of cutting government programs only -- no tax increases. But progressives advocates and top Dem leaders also worry that an earnest, bipartisan effort will muddy efforts to single out the GOP this election season as the party that's aiming to phase out traditional Medicare.
After a White House background briefing Monday afternoon, conducted under ground rules that disallow direct quotations, I asked a senior administration official where the administration falls on this strategic question. The official said the President still supports balanced deficit reduction -- i.e. cuts to popular federal programs and higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans -- and could support such a package if it passes before the election. But the administration hasn't been involved in recent efforts, and sees nothing that leads them to believe that Republicans have budged on taxes -- the biggest obstacle to addressing medium-to-long-run budget issues.
In other words, they doubt Congress can make substantial progress on this issue until after the election. But despite Obama's recent political turns of fortune, the White House's bottom line in this debate hasn't changed.