Due by a week from Friday: House and Senate committee ideas for consideration by the deficit-reduction super panel. But whether those suggestions will be more than political bluster is another matter.
The Oct. 14 deadline for House and Senate committees to submit proposals has been a much-advertised milestone on the super committee’s path to finding and then voting on at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reductions by Nov. 23.
But the process of consulting with standing committees is already becoming an exercise in window dressing, posturing, and confusion, and it’s unlikely to yield more than matched dueling reports from Republicans and Democrats on each committee. In other words: another layer of partisanship added to a process that already has a tight deadline.
In the House, Democratic leaders once again told their top members on the committees to make sure they produced their own recommendations, apparently to counter the proposals they expect from the Republican majority. It was in early August that Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., first assured rank-and-file Democrats in a letter that, “we will ask our ranking members to solicit your views in order to take the best ideas within our Caucus and transmit them to the Joint Committee.”
The Senate Finance Committee’s senior Republican, Orrin Hatch of Utah, describes in a column to home-state voters how he and other Finance Republicans are busy putting together their own report. The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., enjoys one of the 12 seats on the super committee.
“While I am not on that committee, I am the Ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee that oversees more than 50 percent of the nation’s budget, including Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, trade and tax policy,” writes Hatch. “Therefore, I will be playing a pivotal role in this ongoing discussion by ensuring that we put real deficit-reduction ideas on the table.”
Hatch wrote that he and his Republican colleagues on Finance have some “constructive ideas,” but want more. “That’s where you come in,” he told readers. “I have always marveled at your collective wisdom and insight, and I want to hear your suggestions.”
That may seem unscientific or superficial, but at least as advanced as what’s going on inside other committees. Staff on most of the committees obscurely indicated on Wednesday that most of the internal discussions were still very preliminary—despite the rapidly approaching deadline.
People at many committees still seem unclear about whether the committees will send recommendations at all, or simply send separate majority and minority reports. There are even suggestions of internal disagreements among Republican members of panels about what, exactly, they should send to the super committee.
If that all seems disorganized, blame it on the language of the August law that created the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, with six Republicans and six Democrats, and that directs them to propose a minimum of $1.2 trillion in savings over the next 10 years or trigger across-the-board cuts.
The law doesn’t say much about how the super committee is supposed to get recommendations from the House and Senate committees that usually have jurisdiction over the specific areas of spending. The key provision says only that, “no later than October 14, 2011, each committee of the House of Representatives and the Senate may transmit to the joint committee its recommendations for changes in law to reduce the deficit…”
The deficit reduction panel hasn’t provided much additional guidance. “Each committee is working amongst itself to determine what the most productive way for them to transmit recommendations would be, if they want to send over anything at all,” according to one congressional staffer with knowledge of the committee’s activities.
Super committee aides say the members won’t have much time to digest voluminous recommendations. Within two weeks—or by early November—the panel has been told it needs to submit its proposals to the Congressional Budget Office if it wants a thorough assessment of them by the Nov. 23 vote on recommendations.
This article appears in the October 6, 2011, edition of NJ Daily.