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 this week that Biden attended, Jackson stood up and asked the vice president whether there would be a minority or a 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 freshman 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 stories 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.
After months of bitter haggling, President Obama on Tuesday signed a bipartisan legislative agreement to extend the Treasury’s borrowing authority through early 2013 and cut $2.5 trillion of spending over the coming decade. The measure would immediately impose $900 billion in cuts, and then create the 12-member, bipartisan joint committee to recommend an additional $1.5 trillion in savings before Thanksgiving and hold a vote on their recommendations by the end of December. The Republican and Democratic leaders of both the House and Senate will each appoint three lawmakers to serve on the panel within the next 16 days.
The use of special commissions such as Bowles-Simpson to address long term deficit problems has a checkered past, with few able to make any real impact. Proponents of the joint super-committee say this is different because they must make recommendations by November that will be voted on by the Senate in an up or down vote.
It is highly unlikely that McConnell, the Senate GOP leader, would pick any of the three Republicans who served on the “Gang of Six” — Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Saxby Chambliss or Mike Crapo of Idaho — because all three were receptive to the need to raise tax revenue as well as cut spending and entitlement programs. Republicans were adamant in opposing any tax increases during their talks with Obama, and the Senate and House Republicans appointed to the joint committee are almost certain to take a hard line against taxes.
Obama repeatedly called for a “balanced” approach to long term deficit reduction — combining savings in Social Security, Medicare and other entitlement programs with increased taxes on the wealthiest Americans and corporations. But the Republicans who are picked for the joint committee almost certainly will be more interested in negotiating reductions to government spending and entitlement programs than in rewriting the federal tax code.
Kyl told The Fiscal Times that the primary goal of the committee will be “entitlement savings,” and that there won’t be enough time to consider comprehensive changes to the tax code. “Most people believe, I think, that it would be extraordinarily difficult to do tax reform in the context of this committee,” he said. “I think it’s virtually impossible.”
“That’s not to say there aren’t some revenues that you could look at in the context of this committee’s work,” he added. “But I really think the big reform of the tax code will have to be done by Ways and Means and Finance — hopefully sooner than later — but probably not in the context of this committee.”
Durbin and Warner’s service on the “Gang of Six” may have hurt their chances of getting picked for the super committee. Reid was not happy about the work of the self-appointed gang, and their last-minute effort to influence the outcome of the negations upset efforts by Reid and McConnell to end the impasse.
Reid told reporters this week that he and McConnell have briefly discussed the new committee. “I will be interested to see what ideas he has for his own people, the decision is totally his,” Reid said. “But I am going to make that decision at a subsequent time. I have two weeks to do it after this bill is passed. And it’s extremely important that I pick people who are willing to make hard choices but are not locked in.”
On the House side, Boehner may pick Ryan, the budget committee chairman who served on the Bowles-Simpson fiscal commission but who opposed the panel’s recommendations, and is one of the “young guns” — so he can appease Eric Cantor, as well as others he can count on to oppose more “revenues.” While Cantor may end up on the joint committee, such an assignment will be highly time consuming, and may not fit in with the Majority Leader’s busy schedule.
Liberal Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., said on CNN last night that he would not have time to serve on the committee if asked because he would have his hands full as Ranking Minority Member of Financial Services — to defend against GOP efforts to gut the financial reform legislation passed last year.
Kirk Victor of The Fiscal Times contributed to this piece.