Could President Obama’s deficit reduction talks be doomed even before they start?
As part of his new deficit reduction agenda , President Obama last week called for a 16-person group made up of members of Congress to reach a long-term agreement on budget deficit.
But Obama asked Congress to name eight members from each party. Instead, the GOP tapped two members, the Democrats four. And the members themselves are not known for their bipartisanship.
Congressional Republicans on Tuesday named as their representatives two senior conservatives who have been adamantly opposed to tax increases, which Democrats will demand as a key component in any bipartisan deal. The Senate’s representative will be Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), the No. 2 Republican in the Senate and a senior member of the Finance Committee, who has been a champion of lowering the “death tax” on estates worth more than $1 million.
Meanwhile, the House will be represented by Majority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) the second-highest-ranking Republican and perhaps President Obama’s leading critic in Congress.
The Democratic appointees are no more predisposed to compromise. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), a vocal opponent of Social Security reforms, has appointed Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), who has proven reluctant to cut spending, and Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who was the only senator from either party on Obama’s deficit commission to vote against the panel’s final recommendations.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) appointed Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) an old line liberal who has dismissed GOP plans to overhaul Medicare and Medicaid as a “Ponzi scheme.” Pelosi also named Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the senior Democrat on the House Budget Committee, who last year headed the campaign arm for House Democrats.
And Cantor, upon being named to the group, released a statement that was not exactly conciliatory. “I remain skeptical that the administration will take this effort seriously, especially after it all but ignored its previous debt commission and President Obama had to be dragged kicking and screaming to consider minimal spending cuts for the rest of this fiscal year,” he said.
The talks are supposed to begin May 5 at the Blair House, with Vice President Biden serving as the administration’s chief negotiator with lawmakers from both parties. The White House says the goal is to reach a comprehensive agreement to trim deficits by $4 trillion over the next 10 to 12 years, and expressed hope that such an agreement could be reached by the end of June — before lawmakers have to vote to raise the legal limit on government borrowing.
Bizarrely, this process effectively creates a new “Gang of Six” for budget negotiations, as neither party chose to tap the six senators who have been laboring for months on a long-term deficit deal: Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), and Mark Warner (D-Va.)
Reid has argued the old “Gang of Six” should remain a separate process.
The new six might be less likely to reach an agreement. But if it can, it’s hard to imagine anyone in Congress could credibly oppose a deal reached by some of the most partisan members of either party.