Analysis: No ‘firebrands’ on super committee

Steve Bell, the senior director of the economic policy project at the Bipartisan Policy Center, joined the Federal Drive to discuss what the super committee tas...

By Jolie Lee
Federal News Radio

Congress is making its appointments to the so-called super committee, charged with finding ways to cut $1.5 trillion from the federal deficit over the next ten years.

The picks have a history of deal-making and none are partisan “firebrands,” said Steve Bell, the senior director of the economic policy project at the Bipartisan Policy Center, in an interview with the Federal Drive on Thursday morning, when nine of the 12 had been selected.

Six Republicans and six Democrats have been named:

  • Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.)
  • Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Penn.)
  • Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio)
  • Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) – super committee co-chair
  • Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.)
  • Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.)
  • Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT)
  • Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.)
  • Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) – super committee co-chair
  • Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D- Md.)
  • Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.)
  • Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.)

The group “reflects more experienced folks who really do understand budget and appropriations matters,” Bell said.

Bell described the super committee as simply the latest in a series of Congressional fights that have created hardships for federal agencies. The Bipartisan Policy Center estimates, although not final, put the across-the-board cuts at a little more than 9 percent to discretionary, non-security spending to reach the $1.5 trillion in cuts. The estimates for defense cuts are a slightly higher percentage but still less than 10 percent, Bell said.

“I really feel sorry in many ways for people trying to run federal agencies,” Bell said. He added, “I think it’s very hard to run an agency with this kind of uncertainty.”

But these discretionary cuts fail to attack the larger problem of what’s driving debt – entitlements such as pensions, Medicare, Medicaid, as well as defense personnel costs, which Bell said were “really exploding.”

Whether the members will reach a consensus will be subject to internal party pressures, as well as external economic pressures.

Bell said he has seen lawmakers go their own way to work with the other party and were then given the “cold shoulder” by their own colleagues.

“The psychological pressures common to all of us are going to play a big factor,” he said.

The economic situation may have to get worse before it gets better for consensus.

“I hate to say it, but I think we’re going to have some more pain in stock and bond markets to overcome these natural inclinations, as well as their philosophical views,” Bell said.

Once formed, the super committee has a few key decisions to make. For one, the members must determine the baseline from which the $1.5 trillion will cut from, Bell said.

“I fear the headlines from that will be, ‘Congress won’t know how much it’s cutting,'” he said.

The super committee must also decide how open it will make its process. Lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle have called on the committee to operate in a transparent way.

However, there is no guarantee that the meetings will be open, said John Wonderlich, policy director for the Sunlight Foundation, in an interview with In Depth.

“This committee has so much power. Whatever they send to the House and Senate goes directly to an up or down vote,” Wonderlich said. “If their recommendations aren’t adopted, then the trigger goes off and then much bigger, politically unpalatable cuts come down the pike.”

Copyright © 2024 Federal News Network. All rights reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.