There has been a pleasant lull in reporting about the debt ceiling and budget debate, but don’t let the quietness fool you. As I write this, 11 men and one woman are crafting a plan to reduce the federal budget deficit by $1.5 trillion over 10 years. They are the dozen members of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, created as part of the Budget Control Act of 2011, the deal lawmakers struck in late July to avoid a U.S. debt default.
Frequently called the Deficit Supercommittee, this band of brothers is a strange beast. But before digging into how it works, here’s a quick run down of who they are. By design, there are 6 members of the House of Representatives, and another 6 from the Senate, with each delegation evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. They are:
1. Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.), Committee Co-Chair
2. Sen. Max Baucus (Mont.)
3. Sen. John Kerry (Mass.)
4. Rep. Jim Clyburn (S.C.)
5. Rep. Xavier Becerra (Calif.)
6. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, (Md.)
1. Sen. Jon Kyl (Ariz.)
2. Sen. Pat Toomey (Penn.)
3. Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio)
4. Rep. Jeb Hensarling (Texas), Committee Co-Chair
5. Rep. Dave Camp (Mich.)
6. Rep. Fred Upton (Mich.)
CNN Money has a nice, brief introduction to each member that you can check out here. As for how the committee as a whole operates, it’s interesting. The members have until Nov. 23 to make a recommendation. Once their plan has been submitted, both chambers of Congress will vote. In this expedited process, neither filibusters nor amendments will be allowed to ensure that there is a vote by Dec. 23.
If the committee fails to submit a plan, or if Congress fails to enact the recommendations, the government will begin across-the-board spending cuts to the military, Medicare, and hundreds of other programs. Generally speaking, the Republicans want to protect the military programs, while the Democrats are concerned with the social programs. The idea that virtually all programs would be subject to automatic cuts if a deal isn’t passed is designed to motivate both parties in Congress to enact the Supercommittee-generated plan.
In addition to cutting spending, the Supercommittee is empowered to recommend tax increases. Part of that involves the question of whether or the Bush tax cuts, which were supposed to expire in 2010 but have been renewed, will expire, as they are set to in 2012, or not. According to The Boston Globe, “Huge sums of money are at stake. Continuing the tax cuts for middle-income people could cost $2.8 trillion over 10 years. Continuing the tax cuts for more affluent people — individuals with annual incomes more than $200,000 and couples earning more than $250,000 — could cost $800 billion.”
In this viciously partisan period, both sides seem to agree on one thing: a shared dislike of the Supercommittee. Rep. Michael C. Burgess (R-Texas) told The New York Times, “I hate it, I hate it, I hate it with a passion. We’re giving away our authority. In this new 12-member committee, a seven-person vote can change the world.” On the other side of the aisle, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), complained, “The joint committee usurps the legislative function. I don’t think it’s prudent or smart.”
Hurt egos aside, legislators may have a point. Any one of the questions facing the Supercommittee can take years to really understand, so demanding they tackle so many complicated issues simultaneously is concerning. But it’s what we’ve got. So those of you fortunate enough to have a committee member from your state might want to give them a call, send them an email or mail them a letter. Take the opportunity to practice democracy by telling them what you want while you still can, because come Nov. 23, that ship is sailing, with or without your feedback.
Tagged: budget act of 2011, BudgetActOf2011, Bush tax cuts, BushTaxCuts, California, Chris Van Hollen, CNNMoney.com, David Lee Camp, debt reduction, DebtReduction, Fred Upton, Jeb Hensarling, Jim Clyburn,