The “super committee” was already facing high expectations, but Friday night’s downgrade of U.S. debt has placed an even greater burden on congressional leaders as they make their selections for the deficit-reduction panel over the next week.
With an Aug. 16 deadline ahead for making the 12 picks, the top four congressional leaders have so far held their cards close to the vest, not publicly declaring which lawmakers will be tapped for the committee. It’s not even clear whether the leaders will announce their selections on the same day, at the same hour, or if they will dribble out over the next week.
After S&P downgraded the U.S. credit rating from AAA to AA+, President Obama addressed the nation, saying “we always have been and will always be a AAA country.”
Each of the big four — House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Harry A. Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — will select three lawmakers for a 12-person committee divided evenly on party lines. Their mission will be to come up with at least $1.2 trillion more in spending cuts, with $1.5 trillion a more desired outcome.
But there is no upward limit to how much they produce in savings and no restriction as to how they come up with the savings, through increased tax revenue or cuts to entitlement programs. The make-up of the committee could tilt the panel’s final report — due Nov. 23 — in one direction or the other.
If at least seven of the 12 vote for a final proposal, that legislation gets a fast-track consideration in the House and the Senate. Votes based on simple majorities — no Senate filibuster allowed — would send that legislation to President Obama. If they end in deadlock, that would set off the “trigger” of $1.2 trillion in cuts allocated evenly among the Pentagon’s budget and programs for the middle class.
Here’s a rundown of the leading contenders for the panel, broken down by party caucus:
* Frontrunners: Reps. Paul Ryan (Wis.), David Camp (Mich.), Jeb Hensarling (Tex.) and Peter Roskam (Ill.). This handful of lawmakers come from three critical panels that are in the legislative sweet spot of which issues the super committee will have to deal with: Budget, which Ryan chairs; Ways and Means, the tax and entitlement panel which Camp chairs; and Financial Services. Ryan, 41, has become the face of the GOP on all things related to fiscal issues, as his proposed 2012 budget became a rallying cry for both parties — Republicans touted it and Democrats tried to throw it around the GOP’s neck. Camp and Ryan have something of a rivalry, as the budget chairman achieved a very high profile with proposals that Camp later dismissed as non-starters because they could never get through a Democratic-controlled Senate.
Ryan and Camp have served on the Bowles-Simpson commission, and they voted against the panel’s recommendation of $4 trillion in savings through a mix of increased revenue and entitlement cuts. Hensarling and Roskam are junior members of Boehner’s leadership team, and both men are close to House Majority Leader Eric I. Cantor (R-Va.), who emerged from this summer’s negotiations as the party’s leading opponent of new taxes.