In contrast to the vitriolic partisanship in Congress, the new deficit “Super Committee” kicked off its first meeting Thursday with pronouncements about seeking common ground and optimism that the panel will succeed in finding at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reductions over 10 years. If the 12-member committee fails to produce a bill, if its bill is not enacted, or if the reductions amount to less than $1.2 trillion, triggers will increase the debt limit by $1.2 trillion and will be offset by automatic cuts, including $500 billion in defense spending.
The committee has until November 23 to come up with a package in the form of spending cuts, taxes, and/or reductions in benefits for Social Security and Medicare beneficiaries. If the committee agrees to a proposal, it will be presented to Congress for an up-or-down vote by December 23, with no amendments permitted.
But committee member and Senate Republican Whip Jon Kyl of Arizona, a veteran of past deficit committees, said a proposal needs to be completed by the end of October so that the Congressional Budget Office has enough time to score it ahead of the Thanksgiving deadline, leaving the group just six weeks to agree on a bill.
About an hour after the committee meeting, at an event sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute, the Foreign Policy Initiative, and the Heritage Foundation, the spirit of cooperation was not as evident. Speaking there, Kyl warned he would quit the panel if defense faces deeper cuts.
The Super Committee—evenly split between Democrats and Republicans from the House and Senate—intends to review other efforts at deficit reduction, including the Cantor-Biden talks, the Simpson-Bowles deficit commission recommendations, the Senate’s Gang of Six discussions, the Rivlin/Domenici task force findings, and the annual Congressional Budget Office options. “Each of these offers options we can consider alongside any new ideas to begin taming our runaway debt,” Rep. Fred Upton, R-Michigan, said.
“We don’t agree with every proposal, and neither do they -- but they're road maps,” said Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts. “We don’t need to re-invent the wheel but we must put our shoulder to the wheel and find the political willpower to get this done.”
The first meeting of the panel, created as part of the agreement last month to raise the nation’s debt ceiling was primarily organizational.
Thirty minutes into the session a loud protest erupted outside of the hearing room, briefly disrupting the meeting. Protestors chanted: “What do we want? Jobs! When do we want it? Now!” Inside the room, several protesters in pink held signs that read “Tax the rich”.
The next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday.