Deficit Super Committee: A Peek at the Short List
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The Fiscal Times
August 4, 2011

Even before the ink on the debt ceiling deal has dried, speculation is mounting about who will serve on a new joint House-Senate committee to recommend $1.5 trillion of long term savings to Congress before the end of the year. Will this time be different?  After more than a dozen previous commissions, panels, think tanks and individuals offered plans to end the debt ceiling crisis and reduce the deficit, will the “super committee” be able to forge a bipartisan agreement without the tantrums and petulance that characterized debt ceiling negotiations?

While congressional leaders have two weeks to make their choices, here are some of the names being floated as likely choices:

Freshman Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, a former House member and White House budget director under   President George W. Bush;  House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the brains behind the House Republicans budget and economic strategy;  and Rep. Allyson Schwartz, D-Pa., a Philadelphia Mainline moderate who is close to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Also,  Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., the ranking Democrat on the Budget Committee, and Senate Republican Whip John Kyl of Arizona, both of whom served on a bipartisan taskforce headed by Vice President Joseph Biden that recommended a raft of spending cuts.

Both Ryan and Kyl said this week they would serve on the joint committee if asked by their leaders --House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.  “I’ll leave all of that to Mitch,” Kyl told the Fiscal Times on Wednesday, “but if asked, I will serve.”  Schwartz is a ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee and a proponent of closing tax loopholes while lowering the corporate tax rate – an approach favored by Republicans.  Several Democratic aides said she was a contender for an assignment to the committee. A spokesman for Portman declined to comment.

Others are in contention for the high profile assignment to the super committee because they served on the Biden panel—which received high praise for its effectiveness in identifying more than $1 trillion in spending cuts acceptable to the two parties—or the 18 member presidential fiscal commission headed by Democrat Erskine Bowles and Republican Alan Simpson, which issued a report last December recommending $4 trillion of cuts in government services and entitlements and increased tax revenue.

Simpson, a former senator from Wyoming, sounded a skeptical note about the new committee in an interview with Bloomberg Television. “If they don't want to do anything, they're going to pick people who do not want to do anything,” he said. ”With the 18-member [Bowles-Simpson] commission, there were two or three members that were injected in there by the leadership that were there just to crater it. If that game is played again -- then they have to put the horses on them and say if you aren't going to do anything, we are going to cut a 50/50 split out of defense and out of entitlement reform.”

Others in the running who either served on the Biden panel or fiscal commission are: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., a champion of conservatives and Tea Party adherents, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin, D-Ill, and Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., a member of the “Gang of Six” that proposed a deficit plan similar to that of the Bowles-Simpson recommendations.

A wild card is Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill, a liberal activist who voiced outrage over the final agreement between President Obama and Republican and Democratic congressional leaders calling for no tax increases and as much as $2.5 trillion overall  in deficit reduction. Earlier this week, Jackson appealed to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Pelosi to ensure the panel represented a diverse group Americans.

During a House Democratic caucus meeting earlier this week that Biden attended, Jackson stood up and asked the vice president whether there would be a minority or woman serving on the joint committee. In a subsequent letter to other factions of the party, Jackson said: “Those who are already suffering the most under present conditions - African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans and women.  Thus, in future negotiations -- unlike the current negotiations -- fairness demands that these communities be able to speak for themselves through their representatives.  Waiting on the outside of the negotiations for someone to bring us the word about our interests from the inside would be a shameful and unacceptable throwback to the past.”

A House Democratic aide noted today that Pelosi feels strongly about including minorities and women in the budget negotiation process and that she followed that formula in appointing Schakowsky, a Chicago liberal, and Becerra, a prominent Hispanic member, to the Bowles-Simpson fiscal commission. “She doesn’t want just 12 white guys in suits,” the aide said.

Meanwhile, the 87-member House Republican freshmen class, spearheaded by Rep. Tom Marino, R-Pa., is pressing Boehner to include a freshman voice on the committee. Renita Fennick, a spokesperson for Marino,  said today that “his first thought was that it’s very important that there be a freshman voice on that committee because the freshmen in Congress are driving a lot of movement in Washington, especially fiscally,” adding that Marino would be interested in serving.

Another possible choice would be freshman Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D. She knocked off Blue Dog Democrat Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin in one of the highest profile House races and biggest Tea Party success story in the 2010 cycle. Noem along with Rep. Tim Scott, R-S.C., were chosen as representatives to the House leadership. Rep. Diane Black, R-TN., also a freshman, serves on both the House Budget Committee and on Ways and Means.

Washington Editor and D.C. Bureau Chief Eric Pianin is a veteran journalist who has covered the federal government, congressional budget and tax issues, and national politics. He spent over 25 years at The Washington Post.