RALEIGH, N.C. -- When hope still ran strong for a colossal deficit deal, two N.C. congressmen from neighboring districts emerged as leaders of efforts that squeezed negotiators - from opposite sides.
Democratic Rep. Heath Shuler of Haywood County helped pull together a bipartisan group of 102 House members asking the supercommittee to keep all options on the table, including new revenue.
And Republican Rep. Patrick McHenry of Cherryville led 72 House Republicans in urging the panel not to raise taxes.
The issue thrust North Carolina's youngest House members into the spotlight, though they've approached it different ways.
Shuler, 39, has made the rounds of cable news shows and given interviews to more than a dozen reporters. McHenry, 36, who once gravitated to TV cameras, has sought a lower profile even as he splits from some party leaders.
"This is less about making news and more about impacting policy," he says. "I've been down that road before."
The 12-member supercommittee is charged with cutting the deficit by at least $1.2 trillion. Any recommendation would go to the full Congress in December, which could only vote it up or down. Failure to reach an agreement would trigger $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts, half from defense.
On Sunday, leaders for both parties agreed there was little chance for a last-minute deal.
Democrats say any deal has to include new revenues in addition to cuts in Medicare and Medicaid. Like McHenry, many Republicans want reductions to come through spending cuts, not taxes. Both sides have been polarized.
"The American people are just so sick and tired of listening to this partisan bickering," says Shuler. "It's time for real statesmen and women to step forward and put our fiscal house in order and get our country on the right track."
Shuler, joined by GOP Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho, presented negotiators with a letter signed by more than 100 lawmakers of both parties, including several from North Carolina. Among the signers: Republican Reps. Sue Myrick and Howard Coble and Democratic Rep. Mel Watt.
In addition to calling for all options on the table - including new revenue - the letter called on the supercommittee to target reductions of $4 trillion, almost four times the mandated amount. It was one of several bipartisan efforts appealing to the committee for compromise.
"Shuler's (letter) I thought did a tremendous good service," says Democratic Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, a member of the supercommittee. "It creates a very good climate and demonstrates that there are people who would like to do a bipartisan effort."
Speaking in Charlotte last week, Democrat Erskine Bowles and Republican Alan Simpson, who co-chaired President Obama's deficit reduction commission, also urged the panel to "go big" with at least $4 trillion in cuts.
No tax increases
McHenry says he also wants big reductions, and in fact voted for GOP budget plans that would have trimmed the deficit by more than $4 trillion. But he doesn't want any tax increases. Nor do the 71 other House Republicans who signed, including Rep. Mick Mulvaney of Lancaster County, S.C.
"I want to 'go big,' but I don't want to punish the American people for the overspending of Washington politicians," McHenry says. "I just think it's horribly destructive to our economy to raise taxes ... This is not only about government spending. It's about the future of our country."
Shuler says any solution has to be bipartisan. "Having 70 members of your own party happens every single day in Washington," he says of McHenry's letter. "There's nothing special about that."
Responds McHenry: "You can see from (Shuler's) record that he's more willing to raise taxes than to cut spending."
North Carolina's new Republican-drawn congressional map extends McHenry's 10th District into the heart of Asheville. That takes a lot of Democratic voters from Shuler's 11th District while keeping the 10th Republican-leaning.
Political scientist Michael Bitzer of Catawba College says Shuler's role in the deficit debate could serve him well in a conservative district.
"He probably sees himself more as a bridge between the two parties," Bitzer says, calling Shuler "a classic, conservative-moderate Southern Democrat."