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Posted at 10:13 AM ET, 08/10/2011

Harry Reid’s path of least resistance


First thoughts on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s picks for the new budget super-committee?

Meh. That’s being charitable.

In picking Montana Sen. Max Baucus, Washington Sen. Patty Murray and Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, Reid took the path of least resistance — with a twist.

Baucus is the chairman of the Finance Committee — hence the least resistance part — and was the only Democratic senator on the Simpson-Bowles commission who did not support the final product. His reservations put parochial concerns — he cited the impact of Medicare cuts on Montanans, trimming agriculture subsidies and raising the gas tax, among other concerns — over the greater good. “Wrong for Montana and wrong for rural communities across the country,” Baucus said at the time. “We cannot cut the deficit at the expense of veterans, seniors, ranchers, farmers and hard-working families.”

Forget meh. Substitute oy.

Murray — named by Reid as the co-chair of the super-committee — is the second-ranking Democrat on the Budget Committee (in line to be the chair after North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad retires) and a long-time member of the Appropriations Committee as well. But perhaps most noteworthy, Murray also chairs the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Her chief focus is trying to ensure that Democrats retain control of the Senate next year, and raising the money they need to do it. Hard to see Murray taking huge risks on entitlement spending, enraging her base and removing a potential campaign issue. She has a built-in conflict of interest that will be hard to overcome.

Kerry is the twist, and not just because his most passionate interests, it must be said, do not involve CBO budget tables. Kerry has not been a player on these issues, but at least his recent statements have expressed the view that both taxes and entitlements need to be on the debt-reduction table.

“I think it could be a component of whatever the debt deal is, because I think a lot of people would feel comfortable doing the debt if they saw this as part of the package, conceivably,” he said after the Gang of Six bipartisan plan was released. “I think it’s very hopeful and constructive.” Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press” this past Sunday, Kerry invoked the need for a balanced approach, including “reforms in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid.” It is a measure of the current craziness that there has been an outcry among some liberals over Kerry’s subsequent naming to the committee.

If the committee succeeds, it probably won’t be with a single Democrat or Republican defecting from the herd to provide the necessary seventh vote, but with a broader agreement. That is certainly Reid’s intention: These members were named with the thought that they would act — or not — in unison.

Meh — but might as well err on the side of optimism here. Meanwhile, expect more picks today.

By  |  10:13 AM ET, 08/10/2011

 
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