- Top Democrats and Republicans express cautious optimism about the super committee's prospects
- It could be a "magical week" for the panel, one Democratic member says
- A House GOP aide tells CNN no progress has been made over the past week
- The super committee has 8 days left to find $1.2 trillion in savings
Eight days and counting.
With time running out, senior Democrats and Republicans remained unclear Tuesday about the prospects of success for the so-called congressional "super committee" -- the 12-member panel charged with the seemingly Herculean task of finding at least $1.2 trillion in savings over the next decade.
California Rep. Xavier Becerra, a Democratic member of the panel, told reporters this could be a "magical week" for the committee.
"I think it can be done, but the clock is ticking," Becerra said. It simply "has to be a balanced deal."
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said there was no deal, but predicted that if "there is an agreement ... it can, in fact, pass."
Earlier, however, a House GOP aide told CNN the panel's six Democrats and six Republicans "are still as far apart as they were a week ago."
Over in the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said Democrats on the panel "still think they can get something done." But "the last minute is fast approaching," he warned.
"Failure is not an option," declared Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky. "We need to get a result here."
As leaders from both sides of the aisle struggled to bridge a cavernous ideological divide over how much to raise taxes or cut spending, Boehner and Reid huddled behind closed doors to discuss the matter.
A majority of the panel's members have until November 23 to reach an agreement. If they can do so, Congress will have exactly one month -- until December 23 -- to vote on the deal.
A failure to pass any agreement will result in $1.2 trillion in automatic across-the-board spending cuts starting in 2013, evenly divided between defense and non-defense spending. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned members of Congress this week that such cuts could cripple the American military establishment.
While Democrats have expressed concern about cuts in social spending, programs such as Social Security, Medicaid, food stamps, and veterans' benefits would be spared the budget ax.
Despite the apparent unpopularity of the automatic cuts, it is unclear at best if Congress will be able to find enough middle ground to cobble together an alternative package of savings.
"We've got to be willing to probably make some folks mad on both ends of the political extreme," Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, told CNN's Candy Crowley on Sunday. "You'll know this super committee is getting close if you hear folks on both ends of the political extreme scream the loudest, because that will show that there's actually movement being made."
Texas Rep. Jeb Hensarling, a Republican super committee member, predicted over the weekend that the committee will fail unless Democrats are willing to accept significant reforms to entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.
Hensarling and other Republicans oppose any kind of tax increase, particularly the call by President Barack Obama and Democrats to raise rates of wealthy Americans to increase their share of the tax burden. However, the GOP position has shifted to accept increased tax revenue through reforms that would lower rates by expanding the number of payers and also end some subsidies and loopholes.
"Increasing tax revenues could hurt the economy, but within the context of bipartisan negotiations with Democrats, clearly they are a reality," Hensarling conceded during an appearance on CNN Sunday.
Republicans have offered a proposal with $1.4 trillion in deficit reduction, including $500 billion in new revenue from capping individual deductions while cutting all six income tax rates by roughly 20%. Under the proposal, the top rate would fall from 35% to 28%.
Democrats have rejected the plan as insufficient, saying it would end up decreasing revenue in the long run by permanently extending tax cuts from the Bush administration that are scheduled to expire at the end of 2012.
Democrats continue to insist that any solution be more balanced between spending cuts, entitlement reforms and increased tax revenue. They also dispute the notion that the GOP blueprint was ever fully flushed out.
"I don't know what the Republican proposal is," Reid claimed Tuesday.
"It's been a long week waiting for a (Democratic) counter-proposal," McConnell replied.
Some members of Congress have proposed making it easier to reach a deal by adding several hundred billion in savings resulting from an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A number of budget analysts have dismissed the idea, however, calling it a gimmick.