By The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — The fragile economy and wildly gyrating financial markets could put enormous pressure on the congressional supercommittee charged with finding ways to shrink the government’s huge debt. Yet even as leaders finished naming the bipartisan panel’s members, it remained uncertain that the committee will ultimately agree on a savings plan.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced the panel’s final three members on Thursday, and like the previous nine all are congressional veterans. They are Reps. James E. Clyburn of South Carolina and Xavier Becerra of California, members of their party’s House leadership, and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, top Democrat on the Budget Committee.
Last week’s agreement between President Barack Obama and Congress creating the panel gives it until Nov. 23 to propose $1.5 trillion in savings over the coming decade. If the committee fails to agree on a plan — or if Congress doesn’t approve one by Dec. 23 — automatic spending cuts would be triggered affecting hundreds of federal programs.
As if that weren’t enough pressure, recent days have seen world financial markets endure breath-taking ups and downs, Standard & Poors downgrade the nation’s credit rating and continued fears of economic weakness in the U.S. and Europe.
“The thrust of the committee must be to grow an American prosperity enjoyed by all Americans,” Pelosi said in announcing her choices.
She also said that when Congress returns from recess next month, it should pass jobs legislation, including stalled highway and aviation bills. Job creation legislation usually costs the government money at least initially and drives up short-term deficits, in hopes of sparking longer-term economic growth.
With next year’s presidential and congressional elections looming ever closer, there have been no indications that the two parties will back down on their bedrock demands: Democrats unwilling to accept cuts in Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid benefits, and Republicans refusing to allow tax increases. That deadlock has shoved huge potential savings off the table for bargainers.
That same stalemate prevented Obama and Congress from going beyond the roughly $2 trillion in debt reduction that last week’s deal yielded, an amount budget analysts consider half or less of what is needed to begin taming the red ink. All 12 members of the supercommittee — evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans — are long-time Washington politicians who seem likely to hew to party priorities.
“When you’re dealing with really tough issues in which the public will have to give up something, the main impetus for acting is when the pain of not acting is greater than the pain of acting,” said Eugene Steuerle, a former Treasury Department official who now studies budget issues for the nonpartisan Urban Institute.
Steuerle said that so far, it’s unclear whether the public would hold the supercommittee — and by extension, Congress — accountable should they fail to broker a deal.
Pelosi’s choices brought racial diversity to the supercommittee, since Clyburn is black and Becerra is Hispanic.
The panel’s co-chairs will be conservative Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, part of the House GOP leadership, and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who heads the Senate Democratic campaign arm and will be the supercommittee’s only woman.
Other Republicans on the panel are House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp and House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, two long-time Michigan lawmakers; Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, a conservative and confidante of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.; GOP Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, a House veteran who joined the Senate last year with tea party backing; and fellow freshman Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, a former House member and budget director for President George W. Bush.
The other Democrats are 2004 Democratic presidential nominee and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., a centrist who strayed to back Bush’s 2001 tax cuts.
Four supercommittee members — Baucus, Becerra, Camp and Hensarling — were members of a White House commission that recommended trillions in budget savings last year. All voted against the commission’s recommendations, which have not been implemented.
With the supercommittee split evenly between the two parties, seven of its 12 members will have to approve a debt-cutting plan before it can be sent to Congress for votes. That means at least one lawmaker would have to agree to a plan backed by the opposite party.