Congressional leaders, rather than embracing the anti-Washington environment gripping the nation after the 2010 midterms, have turned almost exclusively to seasoned veterans to try to produce a bipartisan deal to ease the government’s debt crisis and possibly rewrite the tax code. Their deadline is basically Thanksgiving.
Of the nine members announced so far, eight voted for the debt-ceiling deal that rescued the country from the brink of default, which suggests at least the possibility that the 12-member panel will be able to reach a bipartisan agreement on future spending cuts. The one announced panel member to oppose the debt compromise is Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.).
The other eight are Republican Sens. Jon Kyl (Ariz.) and Rob Portman (Ohio), Republican Reps. Jeb Hensarling (Tex.), Dave Camp (Mich.) and Fred Upton (Mich.), and Democratic Sens. Patty Murray (Wash.), Max Baucus (Mont.) and John F. Kerry (Mass.). Murray and Hensarling are co-chairs.
On Wednesday, following the lead of Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced their picks for the new panel.
“The lawmakers I have appointed to serve on this joint committee are proven leaders who have earned the trust and confidence of their colleagues and constituents,” Boehner said in a statement.
On Tuesday, Reid praised his picks for their “expertise in budget matters, a commitment to a balanced approach and a track record of forging bipartisan consensus.”
With nine of the dozen committee members announced, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is expected to fill the final three slots any day, and she is believed to be leaning toward establishment veterans.
The question now is whether this group can draw on its combined 180-plus years of congressional experience to forge an agreement or whether it will end up gridlocked in a manner similar to other special fiscal panels established to solve the nation’s economic woes. Budget experts rendered a split verdict about the group’s chances, with no one doubting the panel’s credentials.
Even the “supercommittee’s” most junior members, the freshman senators Toomey and Portman, have 18 years of combined experience in the House before joining the Senate in January. Portman has also done two stints in Republican White Houses, including as President George W. Bush’s director of the Office of Management and Budget.
“The truth is, you’ve got a lot of IQ points,” Steve Bell, senior policy analyst at the Bipartisan Policy Center, said of the selections. Bell said that he was “pleasantly surprised” by most of the panel picks and that there was a “50-50 chance” the emerging group could craft a sweeping bipartisan pact similar to the “grand bargain” that President Obama sought to close the budget deficit.