Super Committee Holds First Meeting

September 14, 2011

The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, or so-called “super committee,” charged with identifying $1.5 trillion in deficit cuts over ten years held a public organizational hearing today, followed by their first public hearing on Tuesday, Sept. 13.

The co-chairs of the panel, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) announced that today’s hearing, at 10:30 a.m., will include opening statements by panel members and will focus on consideration of proposed committee rules.

The second hearing on Sept. 13, also at 10:30 a.m., will include testimony on “The History and Drivers of Our Nation’s Debt and Its Threats” from Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Elmendorf. The hearing will be in Room 216 of the Hart Senate Office Building.

The panel was created by last month’s legislation that allowed raising the federal debt ceiling and requires deficit cuts. The bill requires the committee to meet by Sept. 16 and to issue recommendations by Thanksgiving for cutting $1.5 trillion. Seven of the 12 panel members must agree for recommendations to be offered. The panel is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans and House and Senate members.

Committee recommendations will automatically receive expedited consideration with amendments barred and no Senate filibusters allowed. If the panel’s recommendations are not adopted, $1.2 trillion in cuts, with half targeting defense spending and entitlements largely exempted, will be imposed in 2013. If cuts of less than $1.2 trillion are agreed on, the mandatory cuts making up the difference will be imposed.

Upon return from recess, Murray and Hensarling named Sarah Kuehl, a senior budget analyst for Budget Committee Democrats, deputy staff director. Last week, they made Republican Finance Committee staffer Mark Prater staff director. Kuehl has worked on Medicare, Social Security, and health care, and Prater is a tax counsel – both staffers are experts on taxes and entitlement spending.

The top Republican on the super committee, Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) has asked members to immediately rule out recommending new tax revenue and major entitlement reforms. He insists that reforming Medicare and the tax code is impossible before the 2012 election and would probably derail the progress of the panel.

Instead he suggested the committee start by looking at savings identified in talks led by Vice President Joe Biden. Discussion participants, including Kyl, have given varying estimates of those savings, which would be achieved by limiting federal-employee pensions and reducing farm subsidies, for example. Democrats have said areas of likely agreement total less than $500 billion over a decade; Republicans have said they amount to more than $1 trillion.

Senate Finance Committee ranking member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), announced that Republicans on the tax-writing panel plan to submit recommendations to the select committee by Oct. 14. According to Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), a committee member, the six Democrats on the super committee will also meet on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (D-Conn.), introduced three bills that he hopes will amend the mission of the super committee or create a separate parallel committe to give job creation the same top priority as deficit reform.

Although it is unlikely that Larson’s legislation will be taken up by the Republican-led majority, he suggests the American public is increasingly frustrated with the partisanship in Washington and wants solutions to address high unemployment.

One of Larson’s bills would add four more members to the 12-member Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reform, one from each party, which Larson says would allow for the extra work involved with the added focus. A second bill would formally amend the mission of the committee to require its members to develop both a deficit reduction plan and a job creation plan and to report its proposed legislation to restore the nation’s workforce to full employment. Larson’s third bill is a proposal to create a separate, parallel super committee altogether to focus solely on jobs and the economy, under the same terms as the deficit panel.