* Economic turbulence adds sense of urgency
* Van Hollen supports extension of payroll tax holiday
* "Super committee" to hold some public hearings
By Dan Burns
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Turbulence in world financial
markets will add a sense of urgency to the work of a powerful
new congressional committee charged with finding ways to cut
the ballooning U.S. deficit, panel member Chris Van Hollen said
Democratic Representative Van Hollen said markets, which
are gripped by fears of a global recession, would be closely
watching the committee's progress. It has to find at least $1.2
trillion in budget savings over 10 years by Nov. 23.
Since the committee was formed as part of a deal to raise
the U.S. debt ceiling earlier this month, America's AAA credit
rating has been downgraded by Standard & Poor's, the European
debt crisis has worsened and financial markets around the world
have seesawed over uncertainty about the global economy.
"I think there will be an added sense of urgency," Van
Hollen, one of six Democratic lawmakers on the bipartisan
12-member "super committee," told Reuters Insider in an
interview from Washington.
Angered by the protracted battle between Republicans and
Democrats over raising the debt ceiling, Americans' approval of
the job Congress is doing has dropped to a historic low of 13
percent, according to a Gallup poll released this week.
Americans have sent a clear message that they want
lawmakers to put politics aside and reach agreement on how to
cut the deficit, Van Hollen said.
"There's this sword of Damocles hanging over the process,
meaning that if we're not able to reach agreement we're going
to see across-the-board, indiscriminate cuts in both defense
and non-defense so I think all those factors should focus all
the minds of the members of the committee," he said.
If the panel fails to reach agreement on deficit reduction,
or if Congress does not act by a Dec. 23 deadline, it will
trigger some $1.2 trillion in automatic budget cuts that will
begin in 2013 -- a prospect expected to motivate lawmakers.
Van Hollen said the committee, which must hold its first
meeting by Sept. 16, is still working out details of how it
will proceed. He said he hoped they would begin meeting soon.
There have been widespread calls for the committee to
conduct its work in public after the months-long debt ceiling
negotiations were conducted behind closed doors.
"I can say with confidence that it will be an open and
transparent process in the sense that there will be hearings
and opportunity for input from the American people as well as
from other members of Congress," Van Hollen said.
He also said he supported an extension of the payroll tax
holiday, which President Barack Obama has also said he favors.
The tax cut will likely become a bargaining chip in the super
committee's negotiations, with Republicans expected to demand
cuts to popular social programs in return.
Democrats and Republicans have sparred for months over how
to reduce the deficit. Democrats have resisted cuts to the
Medicare and Medicaid healthcare programs for the elderly and
poor and to the Social Security retirement program. Republicans
are firmly against any tax increases.
"I believe that a very important part of what this
committee should be doing is trying to get the economy back on
track because the fastest way to address the deficit in the
near term is to get the economy going," Van Hollen said.
(Additional reporting by Mari Saito in Washington; Writing by
Deborah Charles; Editing by Eric Beech)
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