November 24, 2014

Joint Committee Appointees Face Long Odds

  • The national debt has grown significantly in recent years due to rising annual deficits. A deficit occurs in any year the government spends more...

Congressional leaders last week appointed the joint committee charged with finding most of the savings promised in the recent deal to raise the debt limit.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.) will chair the new panel, widely referred to as the “Super Committee.” Other senators appointed to it are Democrats Max Baucus (Mont.) and John Kerry (Mass.), and Republicans Jon Kyl (Ariz.), Rob Portman (Ohio) and Patrick  J. Toomey (Penn.). Other House members named to the committee are Republicans Dave Camp (Mich.) and Fred Upton (Mich.), and Democrats Xavier Becerra (Calif.), Jim Clyburn (S.C.) and Chris Van Hollen (Md.).

Established as part of the debt limit deal approved earlier this month, the committee is to recommend by Nov. 23 at least $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years – a target it should ideally exceed. Its recommendations will receive up-or-down votes in Congress.

If the committee effort falls short, a back-up “trigger” mechanism threatens large cuts in defense and other spending although Social Security, Medicaid and some other entitlement spending are exempt. Medicare cuts under the trigger are capped at 2 percent and may not come from benefits. There is no provision for higher revenues in the trigger.

Appointees to the new committee, while very knowledgeable about budget issues, are widely considered unlikely to buck top congressional leaders. Nor have the appointees shown great enthusiasm for a bipartisan “grand bargain” that would produce the large, comprehensive reforms necessary to put the country on a sustainable track.

The President’s bipartisan fiscal commission and the Senate’s “Gang of Six” have recommended such reforms. Four of the Super Committee appointees served on the President’s commission, but unfortunately all four voted against its recommendations. Senate leaders also failed to appoint any of the “Gang of Six” to the new committee.

“I would not call it a ‘dream team’ for a grand bargain,”  said Robert L. Bixby, executive director of The Concord Coalition. “These are a lot of the same players who have been failing to agree on compromises or to support them this year.”

Despite long odds, there is reason to hope that the committee will feel increased pressure to reach consensus from constituents frustrated with political gridlock, a slowing economy and nervous markets. In addition, the trigger mechanism was designed to prod lawmakers to take action, as explained in a new Concord video about the committee.