The outlook for the special committee — or Super Congress — tied in with the controversial debt limit ceiling deal is…g-r-i-d-l-o-c-k. The reason: staunch conservatives who’ve all signed Grover Grover Norquist’s no tax pledge and who are not exactly known as best buds of Social Security, Medicare, etc are the ones who’ve been named. And the names on the Democratic side don’t make you think: “Hey, both parties will work together and find common and sound financial and political ground.”
Republican leaders of the House and Senate announced their picks Wednesday for the “super Congress” deficit committee slated with finding about $1.5 trillion in savings. Their announcement comes a day after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid appointed three Democrats to the 12-member commission.
On the Senate side, Sens. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) will serve on the commission, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell announced. Reps. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) will represent House Republicans, said Speaker John Boehner.
All six Republicans have signed a pledge to Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform that they will not vote to raise taxes.
They will join Democratic Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Max Baucus (D-Mont.), whom Reid appointed to the commission on Tuesday. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has not yet made her appointments.
One surprise in the Republican announcement was the exclusion of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who put out the House-passed budget last spring. But Ryan said in a statement Wednesday that he asked Boehner not to consider him for the committee, so that he could keep his full attention on the budget process.
The Daily Beast’s John Avlon, a well-known independent who worked for former Mayor Rudy Guiliani and is also a CNN contributor, has a piece that puts this into context: the gang of six has been disssed and hyperpartisanship is being celebrated. Here are some excerpts from his column:
The day before the S&P downgrading of the United States debt, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal lauded the virtues of stubbornness at the Republican National Committee summer meeting in Tampa, Florida.
“It pays to be stubborn,” Jindal said. “The press is constantly urging compromise. They root for it like it is the highest possible virtue, the sign of true maturity and achievement in life.” This all-or-nothing impulse is what led 77 percent of the American people to conclude that Congress acted more like “spoiled children” than “responsible adults” during the debt ceiling debate. Not incidentally, it is also the logic that led to our downgrade, according to S&P, which cited “the political brinksmanship of recent months” making “America’s governance and policymaking becoming less stable, less effective, and less predictable.”
The political crisis of hyper-partisanship created our current fiscal crisis by compounding the problem of unsustainable deficits and debt. Now the next challenge is hurtling toward Congress in the form of the Joint Special Committee, whose 12 members will be chosen by party leaders over the next week.
This bipartisan supercommittee is empowered to find at least $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction over the next decade. The broad policies necessary to put our nation on stronger fiscal footing are well known—they include tax reform and entitlement reform and have been analyzed in reports ranging from the Bowles-Simpson Commission to the Gang of Six. This Joint Committee will be the first empowered to bring its proposals to an up-or-down vote. And the panel has a deadline to do it—by the end of this year.
The most important question is what people will be selected to serve on the committee. If ideological stubbornness is the key virtue partisan leaders are looking for in appointees, more political paralysis looms. The initial selections, announced by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid late Tuesday afternoon do not inspire much confidence in this regard. They include Senators Patty Murray of Washington, John Kerry of Massachusetts and Max Baucus of Montana.
It sounds like both sides have….once again…decided they want people who are popular with or at least moderately acceptable to their parties’ bases. It sounds like Power Game Central is what we’ll see and more political brinksmanship. More Avlon:
Because Democrats dissed the Gang of Six, it virtually guarantees that the GOP will bypass it as well. As former senator Alan Simpson—the respected co-leader of the Bowles-Simpson Commission—told me last week: “If you see the leadership not appointing members of the Gang of Six to the new commission of 12, you’ll know they don’t want to get anything done.” Well, that is what we are seeing right now.
And if you don’t believe that, re-read who the GOP has named..
“Outsiders”—that word choice reflects the insularity of the congressional echo chamber. Instead of “outsiders” like Simpson and former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, who are presumably tainted by their independence, McConnell seems to prefer the appointment of predictable partisan insiders like Jon Kyl of Arizona—a man who walked out of deficit reduction meetings with Vice President Biden and who infamously defended making false statements on the Senate floor in a debate over defunding Planned Parenthood by having a flack explain that it was “not intended to be a factual statement.”
But remember, Senate appointments are supposed to provide the dose of sober statesmanship—and the unannounced House appointments are likely to reflect even more partisan sensibilities. Already, Eric Cantor has reaffirmed his no-new-revenue pledge, while Nancy Pelosi has promised that entitlement reform will be avoided by her yet-to-be-announced appointees. The net result is a Joint Committee that seems likely to be stuffed with the ideologically stubborn, receptive to special interest arguments, and therefore unlikely to achieve bipartisan agreement. It is a recipe for failure at the very time we need just such a Joint Committee to succeed.
This is the problem with such ideological “stubbornness”—it is now the status quo in our polarized politics. It is a hyper-partisan vice parading as high-minded virtue. Even the urgency provided by the first downgrading in our history seems unlikely to dislodge it.
In the past, we could at least depend on a crisis to unite politicians to act in the national interest. The fact that no longer seems to be the case reflects the deep disconnect between Congress and the common-sense, non-ideological problem-solvers who make up the vast majority of the American people. If you’re looking for reasons that Congress’ approval ratings are at an all-time low, start there.
Indeed, you look at some of these names and think:
Why don’t we just let Congress go home and turn over the committee to Fox News and MSNBC?
We’d probably get about the same result in the end.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.