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Super? High Hopes, Lingering Doubts For Deficit Reduction Committee

August 17, 2011 by  

Super? High Hopes, Lingering Doubts For Deficit Reduction Committee


AN ANALYSIS


The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, created by the Budget Control Act of 2011, has powers never before given to a single group in Congress. The question is: Will this Joint Committee have the political muscle — or the will — to make substantial changes to the national deficit?

At stake is the threat of severe cuts if the Joint Committee fails to propose (or Congress fails to pass) legislation to trim at least another $1.5 trillion from the national deficit. According to a fact sheet provided by the White House after the initial deal was announced: “If the fiscal committee took no action, the deal would automatically add nearly $500 billion in defense cuts on top of cuts already made, and, at the same time, it would cut critical programs like infrastructure or education. That outcome would be unacceptable to many Republicans and Democrats alike — creating pressure for a bipartisan agreement without requiring the threat of a default with unthinkable consequences for our economy.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) chose Senators Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.).

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) chose Senators Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.).

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) chose Representatives Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and Fred Upton (R-Mich.).

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) chose Representatives James Clyburn (D-S.C.), Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).

Now that the members of the committee have been chosen, we thought we’d take a look at who the members are and let you debate the chances that any meaningful deficit reduction will result from this new committee. What follows is a brief analysis of each Joint Committee member, some reactions to his or her appointment and what citizens can expect from each in the deficit negotiations.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-WASenator Patty Murray
(First joined Congress in 1993)

A Democrat representing Washington State, Murray is one of the Joint Committee’s co-chairs. She serves as the chairman of the Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety, which is under the Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee, and the chairman of the Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies, which is under the Appropriations Committee. Notably, she also serves as the chair for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

“Murray’s balancing act is acute — her main political goal is to keep the Senate in Democratic hands and protect 23 Democratic-held seats, while her primary role as co-chair of the deficit committee is to work with Republicans and come up with a bipartisan deficit deal,” read a POLITICO article. According to the article, some critics worry that Murray will be unable woo Democratic donors if the Committee she co-chairs makes controversial cuts to popular entitlements.

According to her website, two of Murray’s most closely held issues are education and labor. These are the areas where she is least likely to compromise. On education, she cites her Appropriations and HELP committee assignments and says: “I have consistently fought for the resources and support our children need to succeed.” On labor, she cites her HELP committee assignments and says: “I have been able to take the lead on building a more skilled workforce, protecting workers on the job, ensuring equal pay and guaranteeing worker rights on the job.”

Sen. Max Baucus, D-MTSenator Max Baucus
(First joined Congress in 1975)

This Democrat from Montana is the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, a senior member on the Agriculture Committee and the Environment and Public Works Committee, the chairman of the Transportation subcommittee and the chairman of the Joint Committee on Taxation. His significant seniority means that his voice will certainly carry weight in the Joint Select Committee’s negotiations, and he may be a key player in delivering votes on whatever measure the group may agree on.

Baucus’ appointment was immediately met with criticism by former Republican Senator Alan Simpson, who co-chaired President Barack Obama’s deficit reduction committee with Erskine Bowles, which Baucus sat on. Simpson told MSNBC that Baucus rarely participated in the deficit reduction committee that Simpson ran: “Max and his staff never really indicated any great interest in it, they were quite cordial. We’d meet in his office, he would often not attend the meetings and when he would, he wasn’t there for a very long length of time.” Baucus’ office reportedly denied the allegation.

When he was appointed to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, Baucus released a statement that read, in part: “Some might say there is risk in serving on a committee with such a difficult task, but I believe there is far greater risk in not tackling our deficit problems head-on… The greatest risk we face is in doing nothing.”

According to his website, Baucus is very concerned with Social Security, having specifically used his post as chair of the Finance Committee to “protect Social Security from being privatized.” However, he also claims to have used that position to “cut taxes for hard-working Montanans and Americans,” suggesting that he may find common ground with Republicans with regard to revenues.

Sen. John Kerry, D-MASenator John Kerry
(First joined Congress in 1985)

Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat perhaps best known for his failed 2004 Presidential run, is the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. Kerry also chairs the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, which is under the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. He was a key player in passing the Affordable Care Act, as well as successfully leading the negotiations with Russia to ratify the new START nuclear arms reduction treaty.

Some liberal critics were reportedly wary of Kerry’s appointment, worried that he may be too concerned with deal-making, and not concerned enough with protecting entitlements. Alan Charney, policy and strategy director of USAction, told The Hill that Kerry’s selection was “a little bit of a surprise” after the Senator’s vocal approval of the failed grand bargain.

“My bottom line, if Sen. Kerry’s position on this new committee is such that he is for entitlement cuts, then he can’t be someone who represents the progressive liberal viewpoint on this committee,” Charney said. “It seems he’s open to cuts in entitlements. If that’s the case he’s going against the card
inal liberal principle in this debate of no cuts to entitlements.”

As the article notes, Kerry has largely focused on finding compromise in the Senate and abroad since his defeat in the 2004 election, a point also highlighted by his website: “Putting principle ahead of partisanship, John Kerry has worked with his Republican colleagues on important issues like balancing the budget and keeping government spending under control.” One thing is clear: If Kerry tries to fill the role of compromiser in the Joint Committee, he is certain to face backlash from his own party.

Sen. Jon Kyl, R-AZSenator Jon Kyl
(First joined the Congress in 1987)

Kyl, an Arizona Republican, serves as the Minority Whip, the second-highest position in Senate Republican Leadership. Kyl serves on the Judiciary and Finance Committees, and chairs the Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Technology, Terrorism and Homeland Security. Interestingly, Kyl has the least to lose politically from serving on the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction: He had previously announced that he would not seek re-election in 2012.

When his appointment was announced, “compromise” seemed like the furthest thing from Kyl’s mind. “It’s going to be a challenge to get the Democrats on the committee to agree to spending reductions without raising taxes, which is what they want to do,” Kyl said in an interview with The Arizona Republic. “Whatever we do, we’ve got to be careful that we don’t hurt the prospects for economic recovery and job creation. In fact, we should be doing things that support job creation, and that’s one of the reasons why we don’t want to be raising taxes.”

According to the newspaper, Kyl says he will seek a resolution with the Joint Committee, though, because the automatic punitive cuts to defense that will trigger if they fail to pass deficit reduction are unacceptable: “[The cuts] are quite draconian on the defense side, to the point that I would work very hard to try to override them… Even the president and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretary of Defense have said they wouldn’t want those to kick in.”

The bottom line is that Kyl can almost certainly be counted on to oppose tax increases. In fact, revenues caused him to walk out on the debt negotiations with Vice President Joe Biden earlier this year. However, his record of staunchly supporting the military will also be likely to cause him to oppose further cuts to defense spending. A statement on his website reads: “The first and foremost responsibility of our federal government is to defend the security of our nation.”

Sen. Rob Portman, R-OHSenator Rob Portman
(First joined Congress in 1993)

A freshman Republican Senator from Ohio, Portman has one of the Joint Committee’s more unusual résumés: He began by serving Ohio in the House, representing the Second District. He was then asked to serve as a member of President George W. Bush’s Cabinet — the U.S. Trade Representative. Then Bush named him to another Cabinet position, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget. He now serves on the Senate Committee on the Budget, Armed Services Committee, Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. He is generally regarded as a moderate.

A liberal activist group, ProgressOhio, was quick to point out Portman’s past in their criticism of his appointment, according to Business Journal Daily. The group said Portman “voted for both of Bush’s tax cuts and for Bush’s invasion of Iraq. When Rob Portman talks about fiscal nightmares, he knows exactly what he’s talking about because he helped more than most to create the one we’re in.”

However, the article points out that Portman’s fellow Ohio Senator, Democrat Sherrod Brown, was pleased with Portman’s appointment, saying that the freshman has shown “a willingness to find common ground by looking at both tax reform and spending cuts in order to reduce the deficit. It’s time to stop the bickering and put the country first to find a balanced approach to deficit reduction that addresses our top priorities: restoring the economy and putting Ohioans back to work.”

While Portman’s website refers to him as a “deficit hawk,” and he supports a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution, detailed examination of his website did not reveal any issue that seems to be a particularly favored sticking point for Portman. Like Kerry, Portman will likely be a source for compromise within the Joint Committee.

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-PASenator Pat Toomey
(First joined Congress in 1999)

Pennsylvania’s freshman Senator and a Tea Party darling, Toomey serves on the Senate Committee on the Budget; the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee; the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, and the Joint Economic Committee. He previously served in the House, representing Pennsylvania’s 15th District. He is also the former president of the Club for Growth, a PAC dedicated to limiting government — especially through extensive tax reform, advocating either a flat tax or fair tax.

In an interview with Larry Kudlow on CNBC after his appointment to the Joint Committee, Toomey said: “This tax code is so incredibly inefficient, it’s so costly, it’s such a dead weight burden on the economy, we could simply it, get rid of so much of the junk, lower marginal rates, and I’m convinced that would have a very powerful pro-growth impact.”

In a statement on why he chose Toomey, McConnell said, Toomey’s “years of experience in the financial sector and on the House Budget Committee will… serve him well in his new role, along with an unwavering commitment to the principles of limited government and fiscal responsibility.” Without a doubt, Toomey will vehemently oppose any and all tax increases. In a statement to reporters after his appointment, Toomey drew attention to the fact that he had voted to end the ethanol-tax subsidy, a position he is likely to take again. Toomey is likely to serve as the Tea Party agenda’s main advocate on the Joint Committee.

Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-TXRepresentative Jeb Hensarling
(First joined Congress in 2003)

Representing Texas’ 5th District, Hensarling was chosen by Boehner to co-chair the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, probably because of his unwavering, vocal support during the debt-ceiling debate. Hensarling serves as chairman of the House Republican Conference, making him the fourth-highest ran
king member of the House’s GOP leadership. He is also the vice-chairman of the Financial Services Committee and the former chair of the Republican Study Committee. He was also on the Congressional Oversight Panel for TARP, meaning he was directly involved in overseeing the Wall Street bailouts.

According to The Center for Public Integrity, a watchdog group, Hensarling also served on the Simpson-Bowles deficit commission, and voted against the final proposal.

The Simpson-Bowles compromise “calls for a massive tax increase on the American people without fundamentally addressing the largest, long-term driver of our nation’s debt crisis — rising health care costs. You cannot change the ruinous spending path of our government if you leave the recently passed health care law virtually untouched and leave out fundamental reform of Medicare,” Hensarling said. “It is neither desirable nor necessary to increase taxes to address the nation’s fiscal crisis.”

According to his website, Hensarling is likely to support healthcare reform and streamlining the tax code. Like most of his counterparts sitting on the Republican side of the negotiating table, he will oppose revenues. However, as the article notes, “he is no tea party neophyte.” Hensarling is also no loose cannon; his opinions will have been heavily vetted by his superiors in the GOP leadership, and his opinion will echo the mainstream party line.

Rep. David Camp, R-MIRepresentative Dave Camp
(First joined Congress in 1991)

Michigan’s 4th District Representative holds significant power over America’s system of taxation. As the chair of the Ways and Means Committee, which has sole jurisdiction over tax policy and oversees tariff and trade laws, Medicare, Social Security, welfare and unemployment programs, Camp has firsthand experience with the issues that will likely be at the forefront of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction’s debates: revenues and entitlements. He also served on the Simpson-Bowles commission, and he voted against the final agreement — because of the group’s decision to suggest raising taxes.

However, Camp sent shockwaves throughout the political community with an interview he did with Reuters shortly after his appointment, when he said “everything is on the table.”

“I don’t want to rule anything in or out,” Camp reportedly said in a telephone interview with the news service. “I am willing to discuss all issues that might help us reduce our short and long-term debt and grow our economy… Everything is on the table, until we as a group rule it out.”

Still, a statement on Camp’s website seems to indicate that he will maintain his hardline stance on taxes: “Rather than returning to the same failed Washington spending policies, we must restore America’s confidence by working together to implement pro-growth, pro-job solutions. Those solutions start with spending less, advancing our pending trade agreements and transforming our broken tax code.” Judging from his record, Camp is far more likely to push deficit solutions that include tax reform, not increased revenues.

Rep. Fred Upton, R-MIRepresentative Fred Upton
(First joined Congress in 1987)

Upton represents Michigan’s 6th District. He chairs the Energy and Commerce Committee. Prior to being elected to Congress, Upton worked in the Office of Management and Budget under former President Ronald Reagan. Still, he’s an unusual choice; Upton has a long history of bucking the Republican establishment, consistently seeking across-the-aisle compromises and voting moderate.

For example, Upton helped Newt Gingrich ascend to House leadership in 1989, a Salon article explains, and Gingrich briefly named him a deputy whip for his support. However, Upton’s refusal to toe the party line quickly saw him replaced: “The whip organization doesn’t necessarily encourage individual thinking,” an Upton aide explained at the time, “and Fred’s an individual thinker.” While maintaining that Upton may actually be a great, conservative choice by Boehner, the article recounts a couple more instances of the Michigan Representative’s wavering loyalties: Obama heavily courted Upton’s vote during the stimulus debate of 2009 (unsuccessfully, but just barely so), and Upton openly supported TARP.

“I know the exploding cost of health care is at the root of our long-term fiscal challenges,” Upton said in a statement about his appointment. “No one believes this is going to be easy, but working with our colleagues on both sides of the aisle and in both Chambers of the Congress, we will work to address our fiscal challenges and get America back to work.”

Upton has recently, in his work chairing the Energy and Commerce Committee, come out swinging against the Environmental Protection Agency — he is certain to make recommendations involving the Agency. However, no one should expect him to deviate too far from the reputation he established in his first two decades in Congress. If anyone will break from the Republican establishment and attempt to compromise with the Democrats, it will be Fred Upton.

Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-SCRepresentative James Clyburn
(First joined Congress in 1993)

Clyburn is the Assistant Democratic Leader, making him the No. 3 ranking Democrat in the House. As such, he is an extremely close ally to Pelosi. He represents South Carolina’s 6th District, and is the only non-Republican in Congress representing that State.

According to The Miami Herald, in a conference call with reporters, Clyburn was reportedly eager to compromise, even on entitlements, provided that Republicans would do the same: “My top priority is to make sure the sacrifice is shared,” Clyburn said, later adding: “I don’t have any lines in the sand.”

“Rep. Clyburn has never seen a tax he doesn’t like. He’s so big government-minded he thinks money grows on trees,” Chad Connelly, chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party, told the newspaper. “To appoint a guy who has been one of the biggest parts of the problem for years to a deficit reduction committee, you are sending a message to the world that you are not serious about deficit reduction.”

According to an article from South Carolina local station WSPA, “Clyburn said that he thinks that corporate tax loopholes must be tackled to fix the problem, and that if Bush-era tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans were allowed to expire at the end of next year, the infusion of revenue would balance the
budget within two years.” Clearly, Clyburn expects to clash with Republicans on the Joint Committee over revenues, but his soft stance on entitlements may prove useful to the GOP.

Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-CARepresentative Xavier Becerra
(First joined Congress in 1993)

Representing California’s 31st District, Becerra is a member of the Ways and Means Committee and the ranking member on the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security. He is also the vice chairman of the Democratic Caucus. He is another member of the Joint Committee that served on the Simpson-Bowles commission, and he voted against the group’s final plan because he believed it cut discretionary spending too much and did not raise taxes enough. Becerra also voted against the Budget Control Act of 2011, meaning he agreed to be a on a Joint Committee created by legislation he condemned.

Becerra’s selection for the Joint Committee caused a minor scandal when a group supporting him touted his appointment on an invitation to a fundraiser a mere two hours after he had been named.

“An emailed invitation from Jim Hart, an official with the Investment Company Institute, noted that [the event] will feature Mr. Becerra, who is ‘not only vice chairman of the Democratic Caucus, but who also has just been named to the new deficit reduction committee.’ It promised attendees ‘a glimpse into what will most assuredly be the primary topic of discussion between now and the end of the year,’” read an article for The Wall Street Journal. The invitation went on to read: “This will be Mr. Becerra’s first event since being named to the commission and may be one of the first for any of the twelve members of the group.”

Becerra’s office quickly responded: “I did not know, did not ask, would not ask and I will not ask any of my supporters to use my appointment to the select committee for purposes outside its principle focus.”

The controversy over the invitation has limited the discussion on Becerra’s appointment, but his condemnation of the Budget Control Act provides insight into issues he will likely target on the Joint Committee: “Who in Washington is listening to the American people? This proposal does not speak to the values of America — it is not balanced nor does it ask for shared sacrifice. It does nothing about the main drivers of our deficits: the Bush tax cuts, and the unfunded wars in Iraq and Afghanistan… We owe it to those who built this country to protect Medicare and Social Security from being blindsided by future indiscriminate cuts.” Becerra has a long history of saying “no” in this debate to any deal that deviates from the progressive ideal, and it is doubtful that he will change his stance now.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-MDRepresentative Chris Van Hollen
(First joined Congress in 2003)

Representing Maryland’s 8th District, Van Hollen is the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee. He also sat in on the ill-fated bipartisan budget talks with Biden earlier this year. He has recently gained national attention for serving as the Democratic Party’s “mouthpiece” in the debt-ceiling debate.

“He’s been Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s right-hand adviser on debt-limit talks, won the job of top-ranking Democrat on the Budget Committee after Pelosi gave him her nod late last year, and is a frequent surrogate for the party on television news programs, including Fox News Sunday,” read a POLITICO article, which published before his appointment to the Joint Committee was announced, but noted that “he would hardly be a surprise choice.”

Van Hollen may have been “Pelosi’s right-hand advisor on debt-limit talks,” but it remains to be seen whether he commands enough influence to deliver critical votes, either in an election or on the Joint Committee’s ultimate measure: “He’s not a favorite of progressives and isn’t a member of the Hispanic or Black caucuses. Moreover, there’s little indication that he’s assembled a team of loyalists who can whip together voting blocs in a leadership election,” the article read.

“Our plan should put jobs first, sharpen America’s competitive edge, ensure health and retirement security, and require shared responsibility from those who have done so well even during these tough economic times. Together, we can build a prosperous and secure future for all Americans,” Van Hollen said in a statement after his appointment. His website boasts a strong Democratic record on clean energy, and foreign relations — specifically national security policy — is considered an especially important topic to the Congressman. That said, he is likely to spend more time giving press conferences than negotiating the nuts and bolts of deficit reduction.

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