The latest parlor game in Washington consists of trying to figure out who will serve on the bipartisan committee charged with recommending at least $1.5 trillion in budget deficit reductions.
The top leader of each party in the House and Senate faces the task of choosing three of the super committee’s 12 members by Aug. 16. The leaders can pick themselves, but that’s not expected to happen.
The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, as it is formally known, has until Nov. 23 to issue its proposals. Then Congress must vote yes or no within a month afterward.
Uncertainty remains about who will be chosen, but it’s likely to be members of Congress who stick to their respective party lines. Both conservatives and liberals don’t want to see members who will give in to the other side.
The Hill put together a list of the most likely candidates for the committee, and here’s how it shakes out, with candidates in alphabetical order.
Top contenders for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell:
- John Barrasso, R-Wyo., a member of the leadership team.
- Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, ranking member of the Finance Committee. “I can live with [being appointed] or without it,” he told The Hill.
- Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., Senate minority whip, who isn’t running for re-election.
- Rob Portman, R-Ohio, budget director for President George W. Bush.
Top choices for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid:
- Max Baucus, D-Mont., Finance Committee chairman.
- Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Reid’s deputy as Senate majority whip.
- Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, Appropriations Committee chairman.
- Charles Schumer, D-N.Y, a Reid ally and staunch party loyalist.
Top selections for House Speaker John Boehner:
- Dave Camp, R-Mich., Ways and Means Committee chairman.
- Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, member of the leadership team.
- Buck McKeon, R-Calif., Armed Services Committee chairman.
- Paul Ryan, R-Wis., Budget Committee chairman has said he will join if asked.
Top candidates for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi:
- Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., member of the leadership team.
- James Clyburn, D-S.C., No. 3 on leadership team.
- Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., a strong Pelosi ally.
- Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., ranking member of the Budget Committee.
Although some in Washington hope the committee is composed of moderates to increase the chance of compromise, they admit that’s a long shot. “Fat chance,” Bob Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, told The Hill. The Coalition is a bipartisan interest group focused on the budget.
But an aide to a centrist Senate Democrat told the news service that, without moderates, the committee is doomed. “Abandoning those who are willing to compromise . . . will all but ensure the committee will fail,” the aide said. “It will also ensure that the majority in the middle will view it with serious skepticism.”
Liberals are worried that moderate appointments to the committee would accept cuts to entitlement programs: Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare. Economists agree that such reductions are necessary to get the government’s debt burden under control.
Labor unions and liberal groups are urging Reid and Pelosi to choose members sympathetic to their views.
In a letter to the duo, the Strengthen Social Security Campaign, a coalition that includes dozens of labor unions and liberal groups, said it’s important to choose “steadfast supporters of Social Security who oppose including cuts to the program in any plan to reduce the deficit,” The Hill reports.
Liberals are concerned about the possible appointment of Durbin and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, who have backed the idea of lowering Social Security benefits. Reid has strongly opposed the idea and will continue to do so, one of his aides told The Hill.
Politico cited several ideas the committee will consider on healthcare. These include:
- Fighting Medicare abuse.
- Raising the Medicare eligibility age.
- Restructuring Medicare benefits.
- Adjusting Medicare physician payment formulas.
- Increasing Medicare Part B premiums.
- Cutting nursing home/home health spending.
Meanwhile, many members of Congress are calling for the super committee to convene its meetings in public. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., offered a bill last week that would require the meetings to be televised, unless classified information is being discussed. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., offered a similar bill last week to ensure that the committee’s work is open.
But if Rep. Ron Paul had his way, there wouldn’t even be a committee. "I would challenge it in the courts and say that it is not a constitutional function," he told CNBC last week. "There's no authority to have a super Congress who takes over for what the House and Senate are supposed to do."
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