A veteran Senate Budget Committee staffer will serve as deputy staff director for the bipartisan Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction.
Committee co-chairs Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., announced on Tuesday that Sarah Kuehl has been selected for the post. Last week, they announced the hiring of GOP Finance Committee staffer Mark Prater as staff director. The 12-member committee has its first public meeting on Thursday morning.
Opposition in both parties, and especially the House GOP, to a so-called "grand bargain" involving increased tax revenue and entitlement reforms remains likely to hobble a sweeping deal. But the panel has now added experts on taxes and entitlement spending, signaling willingness—at least in terms of staffing—by panel members to consider major changes to the tax code and entitlement spending. They are working to identify $1.5 trillion in deficit cuts they are required to find before Thanksgiving.
The hires also underscore an early effort by the committee to tout bipartisanship. Democrats said Kuehl, like Prater, is a not a staffer known for partisan brawling.
As a senior budget analyst for the Senate Budget Committee majority staff, Kuehl has handled Medicare, health-insurance, and Social Security issues.
Overall, Kuehl has more than 13 years of experience in the Senate, and has worked on a wide range of legislation, including the Statutory Pay-As-You-Go Act, Medicare extender packages, the Affordable Care Act, the Deficit Reduction Act, and numerous budget resolutions and appropriations bills.
She also advised Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., while he served as a member of President Obama's National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.
“Sarah brings a tremendous range of budgetary and legislative experience to this committee and she will be a strong asset to all of the members,” Murray and Hensarling said in a joint statement.
“As a longtime Senate Budget Committee staff member, Sarah has developed a reputation among members and staff on both sides of the aisle as a trusted and experienced policy and budget expert. She will be a great addition to the staff team and we are proud to welcome her as we get to work on this difficult task,” they said.
The committee was created under a provision of last month’s deal to raise the federal debt ceiling. If a majority of the 12 panel members, who split evenly among the two parties and the two chambers, support deficit-reduction recommendations, those recommendations will receive expedited consideration in both chambers with no amendments and no Senate filibuster permitted.
If the committee fails to make recommendations or they do not pass, $1.2 trillion in cuts will be automatically imposed in 2013 by the Office of Management and Budget. Half would come from defense. If the panel suggests less than $1.2 trillion, that amount will be subtracted from $1.2 trillion, with the difference automatically imposed.
This article appears in the September 6, 2011, edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.