Political Animal


August 03, 2011 8:00 AM Setting up the Super Committee

By Steve Benen

Before 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.

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 03, 2011 8:08 AM:

    Another 'knife to a gunfight' scenario ahead.

    Can Nancy appoint herself?

  • Danp on August 03, 2011 8:09 AM:

    Warning to Dems: Appoint no one who has ever received political donations from the military complex. Period!

  • c u n d gulag on August 03, 2011 8:09 AM:

    Since the term "Super Committee" seems to indicate it may actually get something done, I suggest renaming it more appropriately:

    "The Mexican Standoff Committee?" Nah, not PC...

    Ok, how about
    "Stupor Committee,"
    "Gridlock Committee?"

  • berttheclock on August 03, 2011 8:17 AM:

    If only Nancy could appoint herself Madam President.

    They say leaders in Britain were forged on the playing fields of Eaton.

    Obama must have attended the Roll Me Over in the Clover School.

  • berttheclock on August 03, 2011 8:19 AM:

    Eton, Bert, Eton

    More Stumptown Coffee, please

  • Yellow Dog on August 03, 2011 8:19 AM:

    Democrats would be fools not to approach the next phase with confrontation in mind.

    But of course they will. The conservadem committee members (Pelosi and Reid will never appoint Grijalva or Sanders) will cave on Social Security and Medicare, the House and Senate dems will cave and vote for it just like they did for the debt ceiling, and Obama will have to sign it because not signing means some conservative will say nasty things about him.

  • foghorn on August 03, 2011 8:27 AM:

    The Super Duper Committee. That's what David Corn called it yesterday. I like it. Super Duper gives it a balanced amount of ridicule.

  • FRP on August 03, 2011 8:28 AM:

    Amongst the companions we share , what common moment sets the party to ease is the sure knowledge of our commitment . This security will ease our minds as our villages and towns burn . For safe here from the redoubts of money there can be no such thing as ransom or tribute , only principle . From money and principle triumph is secure from the "pusillanimous pussyfooters" , "nattering nabobs of negativism" (written by Safire) , and "hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history" . Our strength will overcome "an effete corps of impudent snobs who characterize themselves as intellectuals" .
    Nyuck nyuck nyuck

  • POed Lib on August 03, 2011 8:30 AM:

    Democrats need to IMMEDIATELY announce that they will raise the Capital Gains Tax to put it on the same line as ordinary income. This would solve almost all fiscal problems immediately. They can then concede by raising it to 25 %.

  • E.Hatt-Swank on August 03, 2011 8:35 AM:

    How is it possible that they didn't see this coming?

    I'm just an ordinary schmuck in Ohio but as soon as I read the basic outline of the trigger, I could see what would happen. The republicans have no incentive at all to do any real work there because if it deadlocks, they get what they want anyway: draconian cuts.

    And now here they are, strutting about, bragging about how they're not going to take this committee seriously. This is what they do. They don't care about anything but their short-term win. When will this sink in?

  • berttheclock on August 03, 2011 8:45 AM:

    @Yellow Dog, do not forget my outstanding Senator Merkeley will not be on that committee, as well. Yes, I am happy money will be deposited in my bank account on the upcoming 17th because of this horrible bill. But, I am proud of Senator Merkeley for voting No.

  • Texas Aggie on August 03, 2011 8:54 AM:

    The republicans want cuts. Here are some cuts for them:

    Money for building nuclear energy plants ($54.5 billion)
    Subsidies to oil companies ($Lord knows billion)
    Subsidies to cotton growers in arid areas (cotton slurps up water like a sponge and needs substantial irrigation)
    Ethanol subsidies from corn
    Excess payments to drug companies for Medicaid and Medicare because of rules against negotiating prices or buying overseas
    The plus parts of all cost plus military contracts and any cost overruns

    and I am sure there are many more of this kind that don't occur to me at the moment.

  • dr2chase on August 03, 2011 9:02 AM:

    Grijalva, Sanders, Kucinich are three names that come to mind.

  • Johnny Canuck on August 03, 2011 9:05 AM:

    Yellow Dog:Obama will have to sign it because not signing means some conservative will say nasty things about him.

    Strangely, I think it is actually:Obama will have to sign it because not signing means he might have to say something nasty about some conservatives .

  • martin on August 03, 2011 9:06 AM:

    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.

    As they say in court, facts not in evidence.

  • SteveT on August 03, 2011 9:45 AM:

    Given the events of the last couple of weeks, Dems are arguably even more inclined to play hardball . . .

    You're talking about the Democratic Party, right? The folks with the donkey as a symbol?

    Those people don't know how to play hardball. I'm not sure they've ever even heard of it, which would explain the deer-in-the-headlights looks they get every time they get steamrolled by the Republicans.

    This, not hardball, is more the speed of today's Democrats:


    I predict that there will be at least one, and maybe two Blue Dog appointed to the Super Duper Committee.

  • Anon on August 03, 2011 9:55 AM:

    I have no faith at all that this will end with revenues. None. Anyone could have seen that coming; Republicans want the triggers to go into effect (yes, even for the military; then they can demagogue on the issue and say Obama is hurting the troops) and so they won't bargain in any good faith. And yet again at the last minute the Dems will cave.

  • Laurie on August 03, 2011 9:57 AM:

    why not put 3 progressive and 3 conservadems on the committee to negotiate among themselves to create a plan to present to the public. The GOP will not agree to put it up for a real vote but since no one paying attention expects anything from this committee the goal should be completely about politcs and convincing voters that there is only one party capable of governing.

  • bigtuna on August 03, 2011 9:59 AM:

    I am so disgusted by this deal that I ceased to care. But, as I understand it, the super doofus committee is supposed to negotiate cuts, and if that doesn't happen, automatic triggers kick in? And the republicans are going to have incentives because defense spending might be in part of the triggered cuts?

    So, when two sides negotiate, there have to be elements that each side is willing to deal on, and there are certain things that each side wants to protect, right, thus creating an incentive to negotiate? Since all the republicans want to do is: cut spending, and frame everything else as bad, and evil, what, exactly is the R incentive?

    Not allowing military cuts to occur? Umm ... how long will it take the Republicans to "negotiate" ie, demand their cuts only; when no agreement is reached, they will say - and they will do this - " the democrats are unwilling to work with us towards a sustainible budget, and it is the democrats fault that cuts in military spending are occurring, putting our country and our brave soldiers in jeporady".

    They will not say that the "washington system" is doing it - they will say it is the democrats.

  • OKDem on August 03, 2011 10:06 AM:

    The House Rethugs will name Teabaggers that is a given.

    The Once and Future Speaker Pelosi will name progressives.

    We have beaten what Reid might do to death. We have to wait until he screws up before yelling more. At least he sounds like he understands the situation.

    Now, turn this on it's head. Who doesn't McConnell name? Tom Coburn pops to mind. Lugart and the Maine twins. Brown and Coker need the visibility in 2012 but can't be trusted. Bailey-Hutchison is retiring and looking at replacing Perry, which makes cuts to programs that help states too dear to her.

  • biggerbox on August 03, 2011 10:19 AM:

    Protecting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid should be the minimumu for a Democrat on the committee. I want people who'll pull the tug-of-war rope leftward, not just hold ground.

    Not that it will matter, because the SuperDuper Committee is destined to gridlock, because the GOP members will demand the insane. But it would be nice to hear the Democratic side responding to their insanity with some 'crazy' talk about cutting the deficit by boosting the economy so tax revenues increase automatically, with government infrastructure programs, and talk about raising the withholding limit, the estate tax and corporate jet taxes if the economic growth targets aren't met.

  • Danny Gail McElrath on August 03, 2011 10:45 AM:

    Well, Reid has shown you what to expect when he says he would like to appoint people willing to cut entitlements. Even though he is indicating he may not, we all know he will. And just the thought that a Democrat, and a Democrat who is the Senate Democratic leader, will openly support cuts to these programs which have been cornerstones for the Democratic Party and which people, who have paid for them, have counted on and depend on to live from day to day, is so atrocious there are no words. If the Democrats had any integrity they would cast him out of the Party. And you can be sure this is what Obama wants too. That "protection" they bragged they put in the debt deal sure lasted a long time. And, of course, the game is fixed, with the triggers in place, to insure there will be cuts even if by some miracle the Democratic members of the Overlord panel were to refuse to agree.

    What a scam!

  • CDW on August 03, 2011 11:32 AM:

    Protect and preserve is Dem-speak for cut.

  • Jimo on August 03, 2011 3:28 PM:

    So how can liberals ensure that Dems reject any entitlement cuts absent tax revenues?

    How about writing a "pledge" and then appointing only members who sign?

    And meanwhile, how about Dems having public meetings where they lay out all manner of military spending cuts in order to "be ready" when the GOP fails to compromise? What's more: why do I suspect that the best military spending cuts will be those that fall heaviest on the parts of the country represented by Republicans? E.g., isn't it high time we ended all military bases in Mississippi? Doesn't Joe Wilson's district have a defense contractor that could go 'contractless'?

  • Doug on August 03, 2011 9:48 PM:

    Democrats don't "play hardball" well because, in normal times, it's not needed for the routine of efficient, competent governance, something Democrats are good at.
    Unfortunately, we aren't living in "normal" times...

  • mondo dentro on August 04, 2011 1:29 PM:

    Dems are arguably even more inclined to play hardball

    That is some seriously deadpan ironic humor there, Steve.

    What? You weren't joking?