One of the arguments the White House made to liberals in favor of the debt ceiling deal is that it will give Dems the chance to fight it out another day on taxes and entitlements. The idea: Dems on the Congressional “super committee” charged with finding the next round of deficit savings — which is equally appointed by Dem and GOP leaders — can in theory insist on revenue hikes and refuse to accept any cuts to Medicare or Social Security benefits.
So how can liberals ensure that Dems do that? One idea making the rounds, which was first floated by Think Progress, is to demand that Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid — who each appoint three members to the committee — pledge to only appoint people who will vow to hold the line on core liberal priorities.
At her presser today, Nancy Pelosi was asked by a reporter if she would do that, and she came close to endorsing the idea. Asked if she would “require” that her appointees to the committee draw a bright line protecting Medicare, Pelosi replied that protecting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits is a “priority” for Democrats. She added:
Let me say, it is more than a priority. It is a value. It is an ethic for the American people. It is one that all of the Members of our caucus share. So I know that whoever is at that table will be someone who will fight to protect those benefits.
That’s not as direct a pledge as one might want, but given Pelosi’s track record on the issue, it seems safe to assume she’d be likely to insist that any Dem appointed to the committee draw the line against any cost-shifting to seniors and make new revenues a priority.
What about Harry Reid? To my knowledge he hasn’t been asked this question. There’s a good deal of skepticism out there today on the left that the committee will eventually cave on entitlements, which is perhaps understandable in the wake of the debt deal Dems agreed to. It’s not encouraging that “centrist” senator Mark Warner is already angling for a seat on the committee to ensure that each party isn’t “ideologically rigid” in its approach to deficit reduction.
At any rate, this is a pressure point for the left, and it’s my bet we’ll be hearing more voices raised on this point soon.
UPDATE: And here's Russ Feingold, calling on Dem leaders to only appoint members who will not sell out on liberal priorities. His statement:
The make up of the so-called Super Committee will go a long way in determining its final work product. Democratic leadership will be greatly tempted just to appoint the usual suspects, namely the chairs of committees with arguable jurisdiction or very senior members of the caucus. That would be an enormous mistake.
Unlike almost all other legislation considered by Congress, the work product of the Super Committee will not be subject to amendment. The House and Senate will have to consider that legislation on an up-or-down vote. There will be no opportunity to reject provisions, such as potential cuts to Social Security or Medicare benefits. Nor will there be an opportunity to support efforts to bring more balance to the measure by closing corporate tax loopholes.
This makes it absolutely critical that the Democratic members appointed to the committee fairly reflect not only their respective caucuses but also the overwhelming views of the general public.
I urge Leaders Reid and Pelosi to do the right thing by rejecting the usual suspects, and instead appoint progressive champions who will stand up to the corporate interests that will seek to shape the Super Committee’s deficit reduction legislation.