Political Animal


August 10, 2011 8:35 AM Reid picks his Super Committee team

By Steve Benen

Before the debt-ceiling agreement had even reached the Oval Office, the behind-the-scenes wrangling was already underway on the makeup of the so-called “Super Committee” — the bipartisan panel that is doomed to fail will work of identifying $1.5 trillion in debt-reduction savings.

Each of Congress’ top four members — Harry Reid, John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, and Nancy Pelosi — will pick three members for the 12-person committee. Yesterday, the Senate Majority Leader went first in announcing his selections.

Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, will be co-chairwoman of a powerful new Congressional committee that is supposed to recommend at least $1.5 trillion of additional deficit-reduction measures, the Senate majority leader announced Tuesday.

The leader, Senator Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, also appointed two other Democratic senators, Max Baucus of Montana and John Kerry of Massachusetts, to the panel.

Mr. Baucus is chairman of the Finance Committee, which has authority over Medicare, Medicaid and taxes — three prime areas of attention for the new 12-member panel, the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction.

Mr. Kerry, the Democrats’ presidential nominee in 2004, is chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Mrs. Murray, who won a tough re-election race last year, is a member of the Senate Democratic leadership, the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Budget Committee.

If it were entirely up to me, these three probably wouldn’t be at the top of the Super Committee wish list, but I’m not terribly disappointed, either.

Kerry is generally a progressive champion, and though he’s expressed some support for the so-called “Grand Bargain,” which I think was a mistake, Kerry seems likely to push for liberal priorities on the panel. Murray is also a reliably consistent voice for the left, has repeatedly demanded a “balanced” approach to debt reduction, and as the current chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, she’ll probably be mindful of the party’s 2012 campaign strategy as the process continues.

It’s Baucus who stands out, however. The Montanan has a well-deserved reputation as a Democratic centrist and the kind of veteran lawmaker who knows how to strike deals. If it was inevitable that there’d be at least one Democratic moderate on the Super Committee, Baucus strikes me as preferable to some of the alternatives — he opposed Simpson/Bowles from the left; he’s protective of the Affordable Care Act; he hated Bush’s Social Security scheme; and in the Biden-led talks, Baucus was only willing to support entitlements cuts in exchange for new revenue.

I fully appreciate why phrases like these are unsatisfying, but this group of Senate Dems definitely could have been worse. (You’ll notice, by the way, that none of the Gang of Six Dems made the cut.)

For the record, I don’t doubt that the Super Committee will generate plenty of coverage and drama, but there’s every reason to believe this process won’t amount to much. Democrats will push for a balanced approach; Republicans will refuse; and the debate will turn to whether to pass a new law to prevent the trigger from being pulled. I’m yet to see an explanation as to how this panel can accomplish anything — over a fairly short period of time — so long as the GOP doesn’t believe in compromise.

As for the rest of the committee, the other congressional leaders have until August 16 (next Tuesday) to make their selections.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • DAY on August 10, 2011 8:41 AM:

    -and on August 17 they will begin discussions on the Shape of the Table.

    (Those of you from the Vietnam Era will appreciate my sarcasm. . .)

  • Sam Simple on August 10, 2011 8:44 AM:

    Good analysis, Steve. These clowns will accomplish nothing. Now, if the names were Franken and Sanders, I might be more encouraged. All that will happen is that the wealthy, the privileged and corporations will be protected and not be asked to sacrifice a goddamn thing. I suspect change will only occur when the riots we are seeing in London, reach the homes of the well-heeled in Washington, D.C.

  • c u n d gulag on August 10, 2011 8:45 AM:


    I wish we had someone like Sanders or Franken instead.

    And this "Super Committee" will not get anything done.

    Though, if it continues to put the Republicans in a bad light, I'm all for it. The GOP Congressional popularity numbers are at an all time low. We'll see how long that lasts...

  • martin on August 10, 2011 8:47 AM:

    As for the rest of the committee, the other congressional leaders have until August 16 (next Tuesday) to make their selections.

    Let the Tea Party hostage taking begin!

  • Anonymous on August 10, 2011 8:52 AM:

    >> Iím yet to see an explanation as to how this panel can accomplish anything ó over a fairly short period of time ó so long as the GOP doesnít believe in compromise.

    Because the Democrats do believe in compromise, because it takes only 7 votes to report something to Congress (meaning there needs to be only 1 Democrat defector), and because it's Max Baucus, who's likely to be that defector.

  • Danp on August 10, 2011 9:03 AM:

    We've seen this play before. The Dems will talk about compromise; unnamed sources will say they agreed to stop paying benefits or raise FICA; progressives will be pissed off; Republicans will refuse to budge on anything; the media will report that they are just trying to save the system; morons of the world will cheer them on; nothing gets done, except that any agreed-to savings will come from somewhere other than military. We've seen this with the ACA, the economic stimulus of 2009 and the debt ceiling. Does anyone really care whether this process is "open"? I only care about who gets political donations.

  • square1 on August 10, 2011 9:05 AM:

    Whether they like it or not, Democrats are going to have to defend the result, even if the result is the trigger.

    Democrats had an chance to push for a clean debt ceiling bill. Following President Obama's lead, Democrats took the "opportunity" of the impasse to push for massive spending cuts. Remember, the White House preferred a spending-cut deal to a clean bill. Obama made that clear.

  • berttheclock on August 10, 2011 9:11 AM:

    As we await the naming of the "Stonewall Jackson Six" by Boehner and Mitch.

  • max on August 10, 2011 9:14 AM:

    Baucus was a very poor selection. His political track record is slavishly pro business. Given Obama's lame negotiating style (i.e., immediate capitulation) one wonders if Baucus wasn't his personal choice. If you want a Dem who will sell out the middle class, seniors, and damage Medicare, Baucus is your man.

  • JM917 on August 10, 2011 9:24 AM:

    Looks like we're headed toward (A) a deadlocked Super Duper Committee, in which case the triggers trigger with painful cuts and no revenue increases--all in all, not enough to satisfy the sovereign rating agencies, in which case we get Downgrade #2.

    Or (B), a Democratic capitulation, in which case we get painful cuts (though far more on the side of shredding the social safety net than cutting defense spending) and no revenue increases at all--but all in all, not enough to satisfy the sovereign rating agencies, in which case we get Downgrade #2.

    And either way, Obama winds up looking bad in however the mass media spin it.

    Chose your poison.

    Captcha: onlypea Lipids. Time to eat your peas and take your nasty medicine.

  • steve duncan on August 10, 2011 9:49 AM:

    A 6-to-6 tie on everything proposed is inevitable. Republicans have no room for middle ground as Tea Partiers are sincere in their promise to primary anyone that hops off the Crazy Train. That and Norquist has successfully elevated voting for any revenue/tax increases as equal to engaging in pedophilia. Dems may signal their willingness to gut entitlements in search of a deal but ultimately any budget that literally leaves Grandma sick, uninsured, impoverished and needing a room in the kid's basement won't fly. Can any rep cross the aisle for a 7/5 vote and withstand the fingerpointing and accusations they supported a budget that leaned toward the opposition? I await that show. And no one is settling for anything unless they can present it as an unequivocal victory for their side. Unstoppable force meets immovable object.

  • the_dan on August 10, 2011 9:49 AM:

    This makes me feel less nauseated about Baucus, but let's not forget that he can be a TERRIBLE negotiator. His utterly idiotic faith in Grassley as a good-faith actor during the healthcare debate tacked an additional month onto the debate, which probably cost the Dems a couple of House seats.

  • Aynsley on August 10, 2011 9:56 AM:

    To quote Charlie Pierce:
    "So let me get this straight; to solve the problem of excessive Congressional partisanship, Congress is giving their job to an All-Star team of partisan Congressmen."

    Uggh. No wonder everyone hates Washington.

  • DAY on August 10, 2011 9:57 AM:

    it is sad, is it not, that all the monumental problems facing our nation are to be decided by a group of men whose number one goal is to get re-elected?

    A better choice would be to select 12 reps/sens who have decided to retire.

    -Or the first 12 people in the phone book. . .

  • CDW on August 10, 2011 12:21 PM:

    If 7 of the 12 on the superduper committee agree on a path, does that make it law, or does the full congress vote on it after they agree?

    captcha: civil wnlati - D.C. needs some of that

  • yellowdog on August 10, 2011 12:42 PM:

    Recent news report indicates GOP Senators on panel will be Jon Kyl of Arizona, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, and Rob Portman of Ohio.

    With Kyl as the senior GOPer, we know McConnell is still driving the train. Kyl is an uninspired choice to say the least--but at least the White House will have no illusions about who he is or how he operates. Kyl is an obstructionist, not a deal maker. If he is talking a deal, it is only to waste time. His specialty is obfuscation. He has no concept of common-ground or compromise. He is not a policy-maker but a policy-blocker. He is McConnell's go-to-guy for gumming up progress, not achieving it. At any moment, he may bolt or break his word or simply compose facts out of thin air. He followed Cantor out of this summer's debt-limit talks. He was nearly successful in scuttling a vital nuclear-arms deal with Russia. He tried to block health-insurance coverage for pregnant women. His game is blocking, not building. Most legislators like to build a positive legislative record. Kyl will be remembered mostly for standing in the way, trying everyone's patience, making things worse.

  • Doug on August 10, 2011 9:37 PM:

    Everything I've seen suggests to me that Sen. Baucus has learned from his experiences negotiating on the ACA with Republicans. While he MIGHT be willing to "reform" entitlements, and whatever THAT means varies with every person, he will require revenue increases to balance them. Which won't be forthcoming.
    CDW @ 12:41 PM - Any recommendations of the Super-duper Committee STILL have to pass the House and Senate and would still be subject to a veto by the President.