Experts Wonder if Debt Panel Can Overcome Ideological Obstacles
As congressional leaders appoint members of a new bipartisan, bicameral debt panel created by the recent debt deal, experts wonder if staunch liberal and conservative lawmakers will be able to agree on deficit-reduction strategies, the AP/Washington Post reports (AP/Washington Post, 8/11).
According to the debt deal, House and Senate leaders each will choose three members for a panel that will develop and pass by the end of November a package of $1.5 trillion in additional federal spending cuts over 10 years.
Failure by Congress to enact further spending reductions at the end of this year would trigger a series of automatic cuts of as much as $1.2 trillion. If the triggers are engaged, Medicaid is exempted and Medicare is protected from deep spending cuts. However, the deficit panel is not bound by those stipulations.
Debt Panel Selections
On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) appointed Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) as the committee co-chair, as well as Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.).
On Wednesday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) chose House Ways and Means Committee Chair Dave Camp (R-Mich.), House Republican Chair Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Fred Upton (R-Mich.).
Also on Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) picked Sens. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.)Â (California Healthline, 8/10).
On Thursday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)Â selected the final three panel members. They are:
- Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.);
- Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.); and
- Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.)Â (House, National Journal, 8/11).
Experts Weigh In
Some pundits say the nine appointees chosen so far signal that Democrats and Republicans are serious about reducing the deficit.
Jack Howard -- a lobbyist at Wexler & Walker and former House and Senate leadership aide -- said, "These are serious legislators â¦ who have been through the wars in the past and are credible, well-respected people within their conferences. It's an All-Star cast. Murderer's Row."
Meanwhile, Jim Manley, a former top aide to Reid, said the appointed Senate Democrats are "serious, substantive picks" (Allen, Politico, 8/10).
However, other observers say the appointees are too loyal to their own parties, which could result in more budget stalemates in the coming weeks. According to the AP/Post, seven of the 12 members would have to approve a deficit-reduction plan before it can be sent to Congress, meaning at least one lawmaker would have to agree with the opposing party.
G. William Hoagland, a former top GOP aide and lobbyist for Cigna, said, "I'm nervous that the far left and the far right are in here, and I don't see them" striking a compromise easily.
In addition, Stanley Collender -- former Democratic congressional budget aide and partner with Qorvis Communications -- said, "These are nine people who are there to protect established positions as they walk in the door" (AP/Washington Post, 8/11).
The Panel's Work
The panel likely will consider cutting entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicaid as part of deficit-reduction strategies (California Healthline, 8/9).
On Wednesday, McConnell said that the panel should work toward "reforming entitlement programs that are the biggest drivers of our debt, and reforming the tax code in a way that makes us more competitive and leads to more American jobs."
While Republicans favor cutting entitlements, Democrats believe establishing new taxes for the highest-income U.S. residents is crucial to reducing the deficit. The GOP thus far has rejected that notion (Krawzak, CQ Today, 8/10).
However, Toomey recently indicated that he will not rule out revenue increases as part of deficit-reduction measures. According to CQ Today, his willingness to consider them on some level suggests that other Republicans on the panel might also be open to certain revenue increases (CQ Today, 8/10). Still, Toomey added that he would not support "some kind of big tax increase" (Wasson/Schroeder, "On the Money," The Hill, 8/10).
President Obama said this week that he soon will send cost-cutting recommendations to the new panel. Obama likely wants to use the recent downgrade of the U.S. credit rating by Standard & Poor's to raise expectations for the committee (California Healthline, 8/9).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.