Super committee members find themselves surrounded by colleagues who are piling on pressure for them to go beyond their already-tough job of recommending more than $1.2 trillion in deficit cuts over a decade—a reminder that, with just over two months to go before its recommendations are due, the 12-member panel is still grappling with first principles.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, urged the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction to “lay the groundwork … for tax reform in the future.” A few hours later, a bipartisan group of 37 senators urged the committee to “go big” and propose deficit cuts of up $4 trillion over 10 years. President Obama has urged the panel to add savings to offset his $450 billion job-creation plan, too.
Those are all tough demands. Following a closed-door breakfast on Thursday that served as their first private meeting, super committee members offered a series of “no comments” and generalities. But they will be hard-pressed just to find $1.2 trillion in recommended savings that must clear both chambers to avert automatic sequestration of a like amount in 2013.
Some Republicans on the committee are already working to deflate hopes that it will exceed its mandate by pushing for aggressive tax or entitlement reforms.
Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., has said that he and other committee members should focus narrowly on the panel’s mandate and, at least initially, set aside ambitious hopes for tax and entitlement reform that would require difficult compromises or finding funding for job-creation proposals that are outside its scope. They should first focus on finding less-controversial savings, Kyl said last week.
Kyl and other GOP panel members declined to comment on Thursday. But two GOP aides said that the panel’s six Republicans are coordinating closely and that other members share Kyl’s desire to stay focused on their already-difficult assignment without expanding it.
“Keep controversial things off the table,” said one Republican aide, citing the time crunch the panel faces before the Thanksgiving deadline for issuing its recommendations. A more sweeping deal would also face more-difficult odds of winning a majority of House votes.
Some of the super committee’s Democrats have also warned against overburdening the panel. Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., said last week that Obama’s suggestion that the panel find additional savings to offset his jobs bill “is gonna make our job more difficult.”
But Democratic super committee members have publicly urged keeping all options open, refusing to rule out even the most politically unlikely. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the panel’s Democratic co-chairwoman, reiterated on Thursday that everything should remain on the table.
That is what the large group of senators organized by Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., and Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., who spoke up on Thursday want to hear. Warner and Chambliss—the founding members of the so-called “Gang of Six”—and the broader group urged the super committee to consider using the gang’s outline, which calls for cutting the deficit by $4 trillion over a decade through a mix of new revenue and entitlement cuts.
Absent from that gathering but looming large were Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. The leaders share a distinct lack of enthusiasm for calls for such a grand bargain. Both say they will leave the super committee alone, but have already helped dictate its product by appointing loyalists to it.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., has also argued that the panel should focus on incremental progress toward addressing the debt crisis rather than making “promises we can’t keep.”
That stance appears at odds with Boehner’s call for opening the door on tax reform. But both the speaker’s and Cantor’s offices said that they are on the same page—especially the belief that the deficit committee should not entertain the idea of tax hikes.
Nevertheless, the super committee announced on Thursday that its next hearing will be an overview on “Revenue Options and Reforming the Tax Code.” It is scheduled for 10 a.m. on next Thursday.
This article appears in the September 16, 2011, edition of NJ Daily.