Harry Reid names three to debt-reduction panel

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) has selected Sen. Patty Murray of Washington to serve as co-chair of a new congressional committee charged with reducing the debt, Reid’s office announced Tuesday.

Reid has also chosen Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) to serve on the panel, which was created under the terms of the recent deal to raise the nation’s debt ceiling, the statement said.

Congressional leaders have until Aug. 16 to name the committee’s 12 members, who will be divided equally between Democrats and Republicans and senators and representatives.

Murray was widely considered a front-runner for a spot on the committee. She is next in line to chair the Budget Committee and is chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

As chairman of the Finance Committee, which has oversight of tax and entitlement issues, Baucus was also a natural choice.

Kerry comes as something of a surprise, since he has focused more closely on foreign relations. However, as a respected former presidential candidate, his selection could help appease liberals.

“I have appointed three senators who each possess an expertise in budget matters, a commitment to a balanced approach and a track record of forging bipartisan consensus,” Reid said in the statement.

Reid’s selections include none of the senators who served on the so-called Gang of Six, a bipartisan group that met for months to devise a plan to dramatically reduce the debt through spending cuts and entitlement and tax reforms.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus blasted the choice of Murray, calling it “absolute proof that Democrats are not serious about deficit reduction.”

“As chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Murray is the Senate Democrats’ fundraiser-in-chief. The Select Committee is no place for someone whose top priority is fundraising and politics,” Priebus said in a statement.

In a joint statement, Murray, Baucus and Kerry called for the committee to set aside the “red hot partisanship and brinkmanship” that have characterized the last few months of debt talks and to look for serious-minded ways to reduce the deficit.

Their statement neither demanded tax reform be a part of the committee's recommendations — as many Democrats hope — nor did it reject Republican calls for changes to entitlements. Instead, they issued a call for bipartisan action to restore fiscal stability in a “balanced, pragmatic and practical way.”

“Our challenge is to find common ground without damaging anyone's principles,” they said. “We believe we can get there.”

Under the deal approved by Congress last week, the debt ceiling will be allowed to rise by as much as $2.4 trillion in coming months, enabling the government to pay its bills into 2013.

In exchange, spending caps will be imposed that will result in $917 billion in savings over the next 10 years. And the new “supercommittee” will have until Nov. 23 to come up with a plan to slash $1.2 to $1.5 trillion more from the deficit.

If the committee deadlocks or if Congress fails to adopt its suggestions, $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts will follow, split evenly between domestic and defense programs.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will each also get three appointments to the committee. None has yet named their choices.

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