Divided expectations for 'super committee'

By DOROTHY ZHANG, MEDILL NEWS SERVICE, Written for UPI  |  Aug. 12, 2011 at 9:25 AM
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WASHINGTON, Aug. 12 (UPI) -- One thing is clear: The 12-member "super committee" tasked with identifying trillions of dollars to slice from the federal deficit over the next decade has already divided observers.

"My expectation is that they will not reach an agreement," said Ron Haskins, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Brookings Institution in Washington and a former White House adviser on welfare issues to President George W. Bush's administration. "And we'll have the across-the-board cut."

Under the deficit ceiling deal reached last week, the new debt supercommittee, formally known as the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, is charged with creating a bipartisan plan for up to at least $1.2 trillion, or to a more favorable $1.5 trillion, in deficit reduction. The savings could come from a combination of spending cuts and increased revenue.

The committee has until Nov. 23 to come up with the plan. If the panel fails to reach an agreement or if Congress rejects the plan recommended, a fallback mechanism involving automatic $1.2 trillion across-the-board cuts in federal spending will be triggered.

The 12 members of the committee, six Democrats and six Republicans, were nominated by the top four congressional leaders and equally divided between the House of Representatives and the Senate.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Thursday announced her choices for the committee: House assistant Democratic leader Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland and Rep. Xavier Becerra of California.

Already named to the committee are six Republicans. House Speaker John Boehner on Wednesday appointed Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas, a conservative leader, as co-chairman. He also named Rep. Dave Camp, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee; and Rep. Fred Upton, chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee. Both Camp and Upton are from Michigan. In the Senate, GOP Leader Mitch McConnell picked Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, the Senate's No. 2 Republican; Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, who served as director of the Office of Management and Budget in the second Bush administration; and Sen. Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid appointed three Democrats to the committee on Tuesday: Sens. Patty Murray of Washington, Max Baucus of Montana and John Kerry of Massachusetts. Murray will be the co-chairwoman of the committee.

Despite the bipartisan makeup of the committee, Haskins says he sees a wide gap to close between the two parties before the committee could reach an agreement.

"Republicans are still singing very clearly that they are not going to raise taxes; it all has to be done on spending side," Haskins said. "And many Democrats are saying they're not going to compromise on Medicare."

But John Sides, a political science professor at George Washington University, says whether the committee will reach a compromise is an even bet.

"Ultimately a lot of it is going to depend on the party leadership in the House and the Senate, not just on the individual members of the committee," Sides said. "So we need to be looking at Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell, John Boehner to figure out whether they're going to be signaling to the members of the super committee that any particular compromises are acceptable."

The important point is that the super committee is embedded in a broader negotiation that has to be going on behind the scenes between U.S. President Barack Obama and the party leadership of the House and the Senate, Sides added.

Meantime, the majority of American people responding to a poll said they have high expectations that their elected representatives in Washington could reach a compromise on the deficit reduction.

A Gallup survey released Wednesday indicated 6-in-10 Americans asked said they want the super committee to compromise to reach an agreement, even if they personally disagree with the final product.

This pre-existing preference for political compromise among Americans may have been reinforced by Standard & Poor's downgrading of the U.S. credit rating, along with the generally downward movement of the stock market in recent weeks, the survey's author Frank Newport said in the report.

But these "scary events" prompting the desire to compromise may not be enough to get politicians to compromise, Haskins projected.

Things that could make them compromise are probably going to involve some permanent, really serious damage to the economy, Haskins added.

Meanwhile, 53 percent of Tea Party supporters take a hard-line stance, saying committee members should only hold out for a plan with which they personally agree, even if no deal is reached, the polled indicated.

Michael Franc, vice president of government studies at the conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation, however, is more optimistic that the committee can accomplish an agreement.

The committee is trying to come up with $1.2 trillion deficit reduction over a decade while the government is looking to spend more than $40 trillion during that same period of time, Franc said, so the panel is essentially looking at shaving off 2 to 4 cents out of every dollar Congress is going to appropriate to spend over the next decade.

"That's not a lot," Franc said.

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