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Friday, December 2, 2016

“Super committee” Inspires Little Confidence

Congressional leaders have begun naming their selections for a powerful “super committee” that will search for ways to slash $1.5 trillion from the deficit before Nov. 23. The super committee — which was established in the last-minute deal to raise the debt ceiling and avoid a default by the U.S. government — will consist of six Democrats and six Republicans. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will each make three selections for the group. The bipartisan committee will be able to approve a deal by a simple majority, meaning that only one member would have to cross party lines to bring a plan directly to a vote by both houses of Congress.

On Tuesday, Reid announced his picks: Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.), Max Baucus (D-Mont.), and Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who will serve as co-chair. Although House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has not yet named her selections, Reid’s choices suggest that the Democratic half of the super committee will be quite liberal. Murray, Kerry, and Baucus have long been known as strident defenders of Social Security, Medicare, veterans’ benefits, and other entitlements that many Republicans hope to cut into in an effort to reduce spending. Furthermore, Kerry’s history as the Democrats’ 2004 nominee for president (and as one of Republicans’ favorite targets for scorn) along with Murray’s current position as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee promise to add an even greater political dimension to the committee.

On the Republican side, McConnell named conservative Senators Rob Portman (R-Ohio), John Kyl (R-Ariz.), and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) to the super committee. McConnell’s choices are certain to upset Democrats; Portman spent two years as budget director for the Bush Administration, Kyl frequently enrages liberals with his hardline positions on immigration and abortion rights, and Toomey is a former president of the Club for Growth who was swept into office on a wave of Tea Party support.

Boehner (R-Ohio) also chose three staunch conservatives, selecting Reps. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), Fred Upton (R-Mich.), and Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.), who will serve as co-chair alongside Murray. All three congressmen have pledged not to increase taxes; Camp said on Wednesday that he will use his spot on the committee to fight against “job-killing tax increases as a way to reduce our debt and deficits.”

On its face, the deficit super committee seems almost certain to be bogged down in the same kind of partisan gridlock that has plagued Congress for the better part of a decade. The liberals and conservatives in Congress have done such a poor job working together in the past that it is hard to see why this committee would prove to be more effective. There is, however, some hope that fear of the across-the-board spending cuts that are triggered if no deal is reached by Thanksgiving will force cooperation.

Americans are clearly fed up with Congress right now, and the partisan selections for the deficit super committee don’t figure to help. Sixty-eight percent of voters believe that lawmakers who shared their view on the debt ceiling negotiations should have compromised, 77 percent believe that Congress acted like spoiled children during the debt ceiling negotiations, and only 24 percent of voters believe that most members of congress deserve re-election. If Congress approaches the deficit super committee in the same manner that they approached the debt ceiling debate — with Democrats refusing to make cuts to social programs, Republicans refusing to raise taxes at all, and both parties refusing to compromise — then voters’ cynicism about government isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

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