‘Super Committee’ Picks Pose Tough Challenges for Congressional Leaders
A bicyclist rides through the plaza on the east side of the Capitol. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.
The moment President Obama signed into law the Budget Control Act of 2011, congressional leaders were immediately presented with a new deadline: 14 days to decide which lawmakers they would appoint to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction created under the freshly-inked deal.
Two days have passed, and the four leaders tasked with assembling the “Super Committee” have yet to divulge much in the way of specifics when it comes to the criteria they’re using to make their choices.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has said he won’t pick anyone who would support increasing taxes. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has indicated he’s looking for “serious people who put the best interests of the American people and the principles that we’ve fought for first.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., meanwhile, remarked he’s looking for “people who are willing to make hard choices but are not locked in.” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., asserted those at the negotiating table should “share the values of the American people.”
All four have delicate balances to strike, between appointing lawmakers who make their respective bases feel secure that their priorities will be protected, while also choosing individuals who are viewed as tough negotiators by the other side but are still willing to seek common ground.
If there’s a silver lining for the leaders, it’s that they have three opportunities to find the right mix. With that in mind, let’s examine the challenges facing each decision maker and whom they might look to with their selections.
House Speaker John Boehner:
Having just come off budget talks during which he held firm on his stance that an increase in the debt ceiling needed to be matched by the same amount in spending cuts — and successfully blocking Democratic attempts to include revenues as part of the deal — Speaker Boehner will be under pressure to name GOP lawmakers equally committed to opposing tax hikes.
The speaker’s quest for deep experience with the subject and proven reluctance to sign on to new taxes could have him tap his Budget and Ways & Means chairmen Paul Ryan and Dave Camp, respectively, who both served on last year’s Simpson-Bowles debt commission and voted against its recommendations.
With the influence of the group of 87 GOP freshmen in Washington these past few months, Rep. Boehner may also be tempted to satisfy that part of his conference. One name that comes to mind is Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., who was tapped by freshmen GOP lawmakers to serve as one of their two liaisons to the House leadership.
Possible Boehner picks: Reps. Paul Ryan, Dave Camp and Kristi Noem.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell:
Sen. McConnell’s appointees to the Simpson-Bowles commission and some of his members’ support for the Gang of Six efforts indicate a willingness on the part of a swath of Senate Republicans to find new revenues through tax reform.
It’s unclear how much Sen. McConnell wants to lean in that direction with his appointees to the Joint Committee after successfully navigating a cuts-only debt package through his chamber.
“I think regardless of who you pick, there’s already a cafeteria of solutions out there,” a Senate GOP aide told the Morning Line. “We know the president has a threshold of what he is willing to support [on entitlement reform]. He already tipped his hand to what he can sign off on, which is a helpful thing to know.”
Minority Whip Jon Kyl of Arizona was the lone Senate Republican named to the talks led by Vice President Joe Biden, so his familiarity with the terrain could make make him an attractive option. As the second-ranked GOP senator he’s a trusted adviser of McConnell, and he comes with the added benefit of not having re-election hanging over him since he’s retiring at the end of next year.
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, fits the bill for expertise, having served as the Bush administration’s top trade official and budget director. His name has been floated recently by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
As a wildcard pick, Sen. McConnell could look to satisfy the Tea Party wing of the party with a rising star like Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. Choosing Rubio would give McConnell a member who voted against the recent debt-limit deal and would likely go a long way toward reassuring some of his party’s most conservative lawmakers.
Possible McConnell picks: Sens. Jon Kyl, Rob Portman and Marco Rubio.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid:
Perhaps the best insight into Sen. Reid’s thinking would be to look back at the three Democrats he named to the president’s bipartisan fiscal commission in 2010. His choices then were Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill.
With the debate these next few months likely to center on entitlement and tax issues, it would seem that Sens. Baucus and Conrad again might make logical choices. In addition to their work with the fiscal commission, Baucus was part of the Biden talks and Conrad was a member of the Gang of Six, so it would be tough to find two Senate Democrats more immersed in the debt and deficit world this past year.
Conrad, like Kyl, is not running for re-election, so any political fallout from the panel would be less of a consideration for him.
Sen. Reid would also likely need to choose someone with whom the liberal Democratic base could take comfort. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., voted against the most recent debt deal but maintains strong ties to Wall Street. She would also add some youthful, rising-star energy on the Democratic side.
Possible Reid picks: Sens. Max Baucus, Kent Conrad, Kirsten Gillibrand.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi:
Rep. Pelosi might have the most difficult task of the four leaders, as she must find three lawmakers to represent the views of a diverse 193-member caucus.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., serves as ranking member on the Budget Committee and was part of the Biden talks. He has the full confidence of Rep. Pelosi and the caucus on these matters. Assistant Minority Leader James Clyburn of South Carolina also participated in the Biden talks and is a likely candidate to reprise his role.
It’s very hard to imagine Pelosi not selecting a woman to serve on the committee. If she decides to tap the more moderate wing of her caucus, Pennsylvania Rep. Allyson Schwartz could be one possibility.
Possible Pelosi picks: Reps. Chris Van Hollen, James Clyburn and Allyson Schwartz.
Keep in mind, these names are purely speculative, but they show the struggle each leader will face in choosing their three committee representatives, a task made all the more difficult by the condensed window of time they have to reach a decision.
President Obama labeled the battle in Congress over authorization of funds for the Federal Aviation Administration a “lose-lose-lose” situation for all involved, as nearly 74,000 jobs are impacted during the stalemate.
The president and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood both urged Congress to come back into session to pass a clean FAA authorization bill that would allow those furloughed to get back to work.
“On Wednesday, party leaders blamed each other for the deadlock, and President Obama said Congress had ‘decided to play politics’ and put the nation’s fragile economic recovery at risk. He said he expects a resolution of the issue by the end of the week.
“But a handful of furloughed workers discovered that the chances for a quick solution were dim when they trekked to the Capitol and had trouble finding anyone to hear their pleas. The House left town on Monday, and most senators were gone by Wednesday.”
Prospects look rather dim for Congress taking action until both chambers return from their August recess after Labor Day.
While everyone has had laser-like focus on the debt and deficit debate consuming Washington, there has actually been a Republican presidential nomination race underway.
There’s no doubt that the candidates and their campaigns have benefited from the lack of scrutiny they might otherwise have experienced if it were not for the debt story.
But that respite from the media glare is all but over now.
To catch you up to speed on some key 2012 developments, we’ve put together must-reads of the day for you to peruse throughout your morning:
POLITICO: “Inside the Huntsman ‘Drama'”
POLITICO: “Obama’s Big Drags”
The New York Times: “Rivals in G.O.P. Struggle to Woo Bush’s Donors”
The Washington Post: “Obama fundraising targets very large, very small donors”
For more political coverage, visit our politics page.
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