Some are concerned that the legal mandate of the 12-member panel — to cut the deficit by $1.2 trillion to $1.5 trillion over the next decade — is too small. Some fear that they may be asked to sign on to the group’s product in December, without much time to review it, and warned of dire consequences if they do not get on board.
But most of all, they are disappointed that the supercommittee has been operating almost entirely behind closed doors. Though the group held its fifth public hearing Tuesday, its members have spent hours huddled behind closed doors and have offered only vague public comments about the progress of their talks.
“I don’t think anyone would view this as a completely transparent process,” said Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Mich.), who had wavered over whether to support the August deal that created the panel but ultimately came on board. “Some argue you can’t have that. I think we need to have that.”
The lack of transparency has caused grumbling throughout Congress, with members lamenting that their supercommittee colleagues have been as tight-lipped with fellow lawmakers as they have been with reporters. But it has been especially upsetting for freshmen who ran last year railing against Washington’s backroom deals.
“I understand how it’s difficult to get things done in a body this size. But at the same time, the secrecy is really scary,” said Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.). “I understand the difficulty they’ve got and the pressure they’re under. But I’d rather err on the side of more information and more input, rather than an easier process.”
The committee was established in the August deal to raise the debt ceiling and is designed to help break through the gridlock that often prevents Congress from tackling big issues. Its members must agree to a deficit-reduction strategy by Nov. 23.
The House and Senate must then conduct an up-or-down vote on the proposal — no amendments or Senate filibusters allowed — by Christmas.
And there are stiff consequences for failure. If the supercommittee cannot come up with a deal, or if its recommendations are rejected by the rest of Congress, the federal budget will be automatically cut by $1.2 trillion over the next decade, split between security and domestic programs.
The across-the-board hit is designed to be painful enough to compel an agreement.
But the hesitation of some freshmen suggests that the supercommittee’s recommendations may face the type of challenge that has become familiar in the House since Republicans took over in January. A bloc of Republicans might reject the supercommittee’s strategy, despite the fact that the group was formed specifically to tackle the problem that propelled many of them to office.