The 12-member joint panel on deficit reduction makes its public debut on Thursday morning, amid high hopes for bipartisanship and solutions, along with intense pressures that could render it little more than the latest exercise in ideological showboating.
The six Democrats and six Republicans from the House and Senate on the super committee met at 10:30 a.m. to give opening statements and discuss the rules under which the panel will operate.
The mission: to find at least $1.2 trillion to $1.5 trillion more in budgetary savings over the next 10 years, and to come up with those recommendations by Nov. 23, with Congress having to vote on them by Dec. 23. But President Obama, in a speech to Congress on Thursday night, is expected to urge the panel to cut more than $1.5 trillion from 10-year spending plans, and to “overshoot” its target, White House press secretary Jay Carney says.
Some other Democrats say they think that the committee should think as big as possible—even look for potential cuts reaching as high as $4 trillion that may have been identified by a previous bipartisan group headed by Vice President Joe Biden.
Failure by the super committee to carry out its mission is not an option, said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., who said he has talked privately himself in recent days with 10 of the 12 negotiators.
Hoyer says that, in the end, no less than the “certainty and confidence” of the American people and the business community—not to mention that of the international community—are at stake in this endeavor to get the nation’s fiscal House in order.
A second public appearance by the panel has been set for Tuesday, when it will hear from Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Elmendorf. But after that, who knows? The committee has announced no other public meetings. Many other members of Congress are urging that the panel maintain an openness as it does its work, but that is not required.
Still, outside forces are weighing in heavily. And there already appear to be disagreements within the panel over the basic question of what should be up for negotiation—whether, for example, tax hikes and entitlements should be on the table.
One panel member, Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., has expressed optimism that the committee can find common ground on reaching $1.5 trillion in cuts. At the same time, Kyl has warned that “if either outside forces or the president or even members of Congress were to force the committee members into situations where you have to compromise our principles, that’s going to be very, very hard to do.”
But Democrats, including another negotiator on the deficit panel, Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, who is the ranking member on the House Budget Committee, reject the idea that anything should be off the table, at least to start.
“I think we’re going to have a full discussion of all those areas. We cannot limit ourselves to any one part of the budget. We’re going to look at everything from the spending side to the revenue side,” said Van Hollen, speaking to Bloomberg Television on Wednesday. He said he hopes the committee will be “ambitious.”
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., who was a member of the Biden-led group before abruptly walking out of those discussions, offered on Wednesday that the super-committee members “have a lot on their plate.”
“And having been through several rounds of this with the White House and through the Biden discussions, I don’t think it is helpful for me to say what they ought to be doing or not,” Cantor told reporters. “I have full confidence in the people who the speaker put on that committee to try and produce results.”
Today’s opening statements from the panelists may provide some clues of where they individually stand on what should—or should not—be on the negotiating table.
This article appears in the September 8, 2011, edition of NJ Daily.