BIPAC: Can the ‘Super Committee’ Save the Republic?

A few weeks ago we got a short-term debt reduction solution (although solution doesn’t really seem to be the appropriate word here; let’s try compromise) that left few people happy, It basically punted the ball down the road, requiring a new "super committee" of 12 members of Congress to come up with recommendations by November 23.

I’ve read various analyses of what to expect. Greg Casey, president of D.C.-based BIPAC, offers some excellent points in describing the makeup of the group and its prospects:

The Super Committee is a witch’s brew of personalities.  It will be co-chaired by Representative Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), Chairman of the House Republican Conference, and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), a member of the Senate Democratic Leadership team.  Hensarling is as conservative as Murray is liberal.  Both have the ear of their caucuses but are also charged with being the keeper of their party line.  The key is whether this eclectic group of perspectives, philosophies, and seniority can forge any agreement at all or if their anointing leadership even wants them to. 

None of the Senate appointees were part of the Senate Gang of Six, who labored for months on a bipartisan "grand bargain."  However, four of the twelve, Hensarling, Congressman Xavier Becerra (D-CA), Congressman Dave Camp (R-MI) and Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), did in fact serve on the original National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (Simpson/Bowles) that spawned the Gang’s efforts.  Even though all four of them voted against the Fiscal Commission’s recommendations, their opposition seemed conditional.  Becerra came to the final meeting of the commission with two speeches, one for it and one against it.  Both Congressmen Camp and Hensarling were inclined to support the Commission report had it been offered under different circumstances.  The circumstances are certainly different now.  But is it enough?

The Super Committee has the gravitas.  If inclined to act, they have some of the critical players in critical positions.  Senator Max Baucus chairs the Senate Finance Committee and Representative Dave Camp chairs the House Ways and Means Committee.  These are the Congressional committees charged with writing tax law.  Both of these Chairmen served on the Fiscal Commission and know the extent of the problem.  Congressman Fred Upton (R-MI) chairs the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee.  Representative Xavier Becerra is the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security.  Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) is the number two GOP Senator and James Clyburn (D-SC) is the number three House Democrat.  Congressman Chris Van Hollen, (D-MD) is a very close ally of House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee.  Although Senator Rob Portman(R-OH) may be a freshman in the Senate, he was the budget director for President George W. Bush and may know more about the numbers than any other member of the Super Committee.

The other two members of the Super Committee have slightly murkier portfolios.  Senator John Kerry (D-MA) chairs the Senate Foreign Relations committee and was one of the first to label the credit downgrade the "tea party downgrade."  Conversely, freshman Republican Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) is as close to the tea party movement as any U.S. Senator except Rand Paul (R-KY).  These last two players may be the bookends within which the others will operate.  It is unlikely that any agreement would get them both and any likely agreement will not get either.  It will take seven votes to make the deal so at least one member of twelve will have to cross the party line.  Both Congressman Camp and Senator Toomey have indicated they are willing to consider changes in taxes, a necessary first step on the right if a grand bargain is to be struck.  To create real hope for a grand bargain, one or more Democrats need to signal a willingness to consider entitlement reform.   

The cynic in me is pessimistic a majority of this group could agree on anything.  The optimist in me, however, sees a bit of the deal maker in each one of them.  Is it possible the concept of saving the Republic is sufficient motivation for twelve good men to do the right thing?  We shall see.