Next Front in Budget Wars: The "Super Committee"
tBefore the Senate had even voted to approve the debt-ceiling agreement, the relevant DC players were already hard at work on the next phase: the Super Committee. Congressional leaders from both parties and both chambers have two weeks to select members for the panel, so attention has turned not only to who'll get the nod, but the strategy behind the selections.
With the immediate crisis averted, Obama and congressional leaders quickly turned their attention to the next front in the war over the federal budget: a new legislative committee that will have the job of developing a broader plan to control the government's debt.
The bipartisan panel, to be named this month, is likely to confront the same ideological divide that caused an almost crippling impasse in the debt-limit debate. Republican leaders are warning that they will not include anyone on the panel who is willing to raise taxes, prompting Democrats to threaten a hard line against cuts to Social Security and Medicare benefits.
The Republican line to Dems, in effect, is pretty straightforward: "We'll name far-right members who'll demand another cuts-only package; you should name moderates who'll help us do this."
Democrats, still unhappy with the debt deal reached this week, feel as if they have no choice but to respond to the GOP tack in kind. Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), for example, told the Washington Post he would like to "put people on it who are willing to do entitlement cuts" and "people with open minds," but with Republicans already rejecting compromise, before the panel even exists, the GOP line "makes it pretty hard for me."
I hope folks are ready to live with those triggers included in the deal, because the likelihood of the Super Committee reaching some kind of consensus that can (a) be approved by a majority of its members; (b) pass the House and Senate; and (c) earn President Obama's signature, is already extremely low.
In case this isn't obvious, the whole point of the 12-member bipartisan panel is to shape a plan for the next round of debt reduction. Their task is to find between $1.2 trillion to $1.5 trillion in savings, with an eye on taxes and entitlements.
Dems believe they have the stronger political hand -- increased revenue is popular; cuts to Social Security and Medicare aren't popular at all -- but Republican leaders have already said they intend to reject plans with new revenue and expect all (or nearly all) of the savings to come from cuts.
This, in turn, Democrats leaders and their allies to push back in the other direction. Indeed, Greg Sargent noted yesterday some would like to see Dems appoint committee members who will reject any cuts to Medicare or Social Security benefits.
So how can liberals ensure that Dems do that? One idea making the rounds, which was first floated by Think Progress, is to demand that Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid -- who each appoint three members to the committee -- pledge to only appoint people who will vow to hold the line on core liberal priorities.
At her presser today, Nancy Pelosi was asked by a reporter if she would do that, and she came close to endorsing the idea. Asked if she would "require" that her appointees to the committee draw a bright line protecting Medicare, Pelosi replied that protecting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits is a "priority" for Democrats.
Given the events of the last couple of weeks, Dems are arguably even more inclined to play hardball, since Republicans were so irresponsible during the debt-ceiling fight. It's not as if the GOP created an atmosphere of goodwill and cooperation. And with Republicans already taking an antagonistic attitude about the next round of talks that haven't even started, Democrats would be fools not to approach the next phase with confrontation in mind.