Meet the Debt Supercommittee


NEW YORK (MainStreet) – When Congress finally got around to cutting a deal to raise the debt ceiling, it came with a unique provision: A second round of spending cuts, totaling $1.5 trillion, would be decided not by Congress but by a small group of legislators appointed by party leaders. This new bipartisan “supercommittee” will consist of a half-dozen congressmen from each house, split evenly among party lines.

If the committee fails to reach a budget agreement, $500 billion will automatically be cut from the Pentagon’s budget to meet the savings target, a politically distasteful outcome that should hopefully prompt them to work together.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi chose the final three members to sit on the committee Thursday, rounding out the group of 12 that will fight the next battle over the nation’s debt. Here’s a quick look at the 12 angry men and women who will hopefully do a better than Congress as a whole has in addressing the country’s budget problems.

At first glance, it looks like both sides have chosen a diverse group of legislators that appeal to all elements of their parties, meaning they may indeed be able to get their colleagues behind the plan they come up with, if they are able to agree in the end.

Sen. John Kerry (D–Mass.)

Now the senior senator from Massachusetts, the one-time presidential candidate is perhaps better known for his stature in the realm of foreign policy than domestic budget issues. Kerry is not without budgetary credentials, however, sitting on the small business and finance committees. He voted against the original Bush tax cuts, but showed a willingness to compromise in December when he agreed to a deal to extend the cuts in exchange for an extension of unemployment benefits.

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.)

Something of a wild card, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee has a reputation for being willing to reach across the aisle as a member of the more conservative “blue dog” wing of the Democratic Party. He previously served on President Obama’s bipartisan deficit-reduction commission, and he has said that any deal must include increased tax revenue, which is sure to be a significant sticking point for the Republicans on the committee.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.)

As chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Murray is an oddly political choice for a committee meant to be reaching across the aisle. At the same time, the choice has also drawn criticism from liberal groups who feel that she should cease fundraising activities while on the committee, over concerns that such dual roles could give special interests an undue influence over the proceedings.

Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.)

The South Carolina congressman is an assistant Democratic House leader and a member of the House Appropriations Committee. He is considered one of the more liberal Democrats in the House, and previously served on Joe Biden’s deficit working group.

Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.)

Another liberal Democrat, Becerra was one of just two members of the supercommittee to have voted against the deal to raise the debt ceiling. At the time he criticized the deal for not raising taxes on the rich or addressing the cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and he also expressed concern for the future of Medicare and Social Security. It’s hard to believe that he’ll be a big compromiser on the super committee, as he is perhaps the most liberal of the Democrats chosen for the job.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.)

Van Hollen previously served as his party’s chief fundraiser, and he’s now the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee. Like Clyburn he was part of Biden’s deficit working group, and like most Democrats he’s opposed to entitlement cuts and wants to see increased tax revenues.

Sen. Patrick Toomey (R-Penn.)

While a moderate on social issues, Toomey is a favorite of the Tea Party Republicans and formerly headed the anti-tax Club for Growth. He voted against raising the debt limit on the grounds that it did not do enough to cut spending, positioning him as one of the more conservative voices on the supercommittee.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio)

Like Toomey, Portman is a freshman senator, but he brings a lot of experience to the table, having directed the Office of Management and Budget under President George W. Bush and served on the Ways and Means Committee.  He’s viewed by some as more willing to compromise, and at least one Democrat, Sen. Sherrod Brown (Ohio), expressed approval of Portman’s appointment, noting that he may be more willing to consider tax reform than other Republicans on the committee.

Sen. John Kyl (R-Ariz.)

Kyl is the Republican whip and serves on the Senate Finance Committee. While he’s a staunch opponent of tax hikes, the fact that he’s retiring at the end of his term suggests that he won’t be as beholden to political considerations as others on the committee.

Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas)

Hensarling will co-chair the committee along with Patty Murray. He’s about as conservative as they come, and when he served on Obama’s bipartisan deficit reduction committee, he voted against the final proposal because it failed to make significant cuts to Medicare.

Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.)

Camp chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, which is in charge of writing tax laws. That means he’s likely to be a moderate voice when it comes to tax reform, and in a recent interview he refused to rule out the possibility of increasing tax revenue. That’s not to say that he’s going to be leading a charge to tax the rich, but he’s the kind of compromiser who could actually get things done on the committee.

Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.)

Upton has always been big on cutting spending, to the point that he was nicknamed “The Young Slasher” early in his career. He’s also pushed to overturn the health care reform law, and as chair of the Committee on Energy and Commerce he’ll also be the go-to guy when the time comes to discuss energy subsidies.

Looking at both sides, they seem equally matched: Both parties have chosen something approximating a representative sample of their members, with some more ideologically extreme and others who have a proven (or stated) interest in compromise.

Our verdict: It’s hard to bet on Congress solving anything through compromise these days, but we’re hopeful that having fewer cooks in the kitchen might make for a favorable outcome.

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