Super Debt Committee Takes Shape As Republicans Appoint Their Six
Republican leaders in Congress on Wednesday announced their six appointments to the 12-member super committee charged with finding at least $1.2 trillion in debt reduction but facing low expectations for success in an increasingly mired political environment.
House Speaker John Boehner chose House Republican Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling of Texas, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp of Michigan and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton of Michigan.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell chose Sens. Jon Kyl of Arizona, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Rob Portman of Ohio to represent the Senate GOP.
The announcements come one day after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid appointed his three picks -- Sens. Patty Murray of Washington, Max Baucus of Montana and John Kerry of Massachusetts. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi has until Aug. 16 to choose her three selections of House Democrats to fill out the committee.
Speculation has been swirling around which lawmakers would get a seat on the committee ever since Congress reached a last-minute deal last week to raise the nation's $14.3 trillion debt cap in exchange for at least $2.1 trillion in spending cuts.
Boehner said his picks for the committee "are proven leaders who have earned the trust and confidence of their colleagues and constituents."
"They understand the gravity of our debt crisis and I appreciate their willingness to serve on this panel," he said.
Even before the selections were made, concerns arose that both sides will deadlock because Democrats are insisting on tax increases for higher income Americans, while Republicans want to cut into the government's massive entitlement programs.
Another concern raised was that some members of the group were too partisan to come up with a solution.
"There is no doubt Mitch McConnell and John Boehner will appoint members who will draw the line on no new revenues, and instead zero their aim on big cuts to Medicare and Social Security, using the deficit to change our fundamental values," read a petition circulated by Progressives United, a group led by former Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold. "Democratic appointees must oppose all cuts to Social Security and Medicare and demand that corporations and the wealthy finally sacrifice like everyone else. No ifs, ands, or buts."
Just as expected, after the announcements, not all were pleased. Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, called on Reid to withdraw the appointment of Murray, co-chair of the committee, because she is head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the fundraising group tasked with getting Senate Democrats elected.
Murray's selection is "absolute proof that Democrats are not serious about deficit reduction," Priebus. "The select committee is no place for someone whose top priority is fundraising and politics."
Campaign watchdog Public Campaign also gave a thumbs-down to the Murray pick. Nick Nyhart, president of the group, said Murray should immediately step down as DSCC chairwoman if she accepts the appointment.
"Sen. Patty Murray may be a fine senator, but putting Senate Democrats' leading fundraiser in charge of a committee that will see a lobbying push like never before sends the wrong message to the American people," he said.
"Instead of focusing solely on finding a balanced approach to deficit reduction, she will also be focused on raising money from the same interests hoping to influence the committee," he said.
But Reid expressed confidence in Murray, saying her "years of experience on the Senate budget and appropriations committee have given her a depth of knowledge on budget issues, and demonstrated her ability to work across party lines."
White House spokesman Jay Carney added that criticism of Murray was unfounded.
"These are small or political issues. ... And I think it's just silly criticism," Carney said Wednesday.
"The Senate minority leader who is appointing Republican senators to this committee said quite explicitly that his No. 1 objective in office was to have the president of the United States defeated in 2012. ... But you know what, that's OK because we know we can put aside a lot of the partisan rhetoric and focus on what needs to get done."
Of the members chosen, three -- Hensarling, Camp and Bowles -- served on President Obama's deficit reduction panel. That 18-member panel served as a precursor to the select committee, but its recommendations were never acted on since a supermajority of the group couldn't agree to all the debt reduction prescriptions.
Also being received as palatable so far are Kerry, Kyl, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, and Portman, a freshman and the former budget director under President George W. Bush, who was seen as an obvious pick because of his topical knowledge.
But aside from Murray, one name to stir the opposite side is Toomey, another freshman and former head of the conservative Club for Growth. Toomey's selection thrilled his former organization.
"Senator Toomey is a staunch advocate for limited government and he understands that prosperity comes from economic freedom. Conservatives should be excited that someone of Senator Toomey's caliber will be at the center of the debate over how to restore America," said Club for Growth President Chris Chocola.
Surprisingly not on the list is Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee. His budget plan to overhaul entitlement programs is the blueprint for Republicans though it angered many Democrats. Ryan said he asked Boehner not to consider him for the committee because of his budget duties.
The committee is expected to come up with at least $1.2 trillion in cuts to be decided by Nov. 23, with both chambers of Congress voting up-or-down deal by Dec. 23. No amendments are allowed and the White House has no representative in the talks. If the committee cannot reach an agreement, across-the-board reductions to federal spending will be triggered, taking big chunks out of defense spending and payments to Medicare providers.