Welcome to The Intersection, a series from the VOX Global team designed to help you anticipate and prepare for public policy challenges and opportunities that you may face.
Table of Contents: Aug 2011
- Will the Super Committee Work?
- The House Republicans
- The Senate Democrats
- The Senate Republicans
- The House Democrats
The Senate Democrats
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has selected Senator Max Baucus (MT), Senator John Kerry (MA), and Senator Patty Murray (WA) as the Democratic appointees to the joint deficit reduction committee. Senator Murray will serve as the Democratic co-chair of the committee along with Republican Representative Jeb Hensarling (TX). Senator Reid’s selections represent the broad spectrum of progressive positions on budget, tax and entitlement programs – the issues that will serve as the basis for any effort to ultimately reduce the deficit by $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years.
Placing this much power in the hands of so few is never without controversy, but it appears that Leader Reid made an effort to be as balanced as possible in his approach. Baucus, Kerry and Murray have all called for a balanced approach that includes matching cuts with revenue raises. The variance among the members comes after examining their lifelong positions on key issues, the committees on which they serve in the Senate, and their recent positions concerning comprehensive debt reform measures.
No Invites for “Gang of Six”
It should be noted that Senator Reid did not appoint any members of the bipartisan “Gang of Six” which included Senators Dick Durbin (IL), Mark Warner (VA), and Kent Conrad (ND). He chose to select Members associated with the Bowles-Simpson debt reduction commission established by President Obama last year. While all of Senator Reid’s appointees are reliable progressive votes, their varying opinions on the Bowles-Simpson Commission make their positions on this effort highly unpredictable.
The Specter of the Bowles-Simpson Commission
The speculation is that with roughly 75 days before the November deadline when Congress returns in September, there must be an already agreed upon starting point for the committee to begin its work. That point is believed to be the final report issued by the Bowles-Simpson debt reduction commission in December 2010. Two members of that commission, Baucus in the Senate and Representative Xavier Becerra (D-CA) in the House have been appointed to the super committee, and they both voted against the final proposal, denying a vote by the full Congress.
In a statement, Baucus said he could not support the measure because “we cannot cut the deficit at the expense of veterans, seniors, ranchers, farmers and hard working families.” Specifically, Baucus was concerned with cuts in farm subsidies, converting Medicare to a voucher program, and increasing the retirement age for Social Security – all points anticipated to be on the table during the upcoming debt negotiations.
Compare that to positions held by Kerry and Murray, who both signed a bipartisan letter to President Obama in March calling for a “grand deal” based in part on the recommendations of the Bowles-Simpson Commission. “Specifically, we hope that the discussion will include discretionary spending cuts, entitlement changes and tax reform.” Their positions on Bowles-Simpson provide some insight into where the three Democratic members are prepared to go in the upcoming negotiations.
Background on Democratic Senate Appointees
Senator Murray and Senator Baucus are obvious choices based on their positions in leadership and as chairs of key committees dealing with budget and taxation issues. If there is a political choice it is Senator Kerry, the former presidential candidate who is seen as the liberal lion of this group and who called the S&P downgrade of the nation’s credit rating “the tea party downgrade.”
Senator Patty Murray is a respected member of leadership and serves on some of the most powerful bodies in the chamber including the Budget Committee; the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee; and the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. Murray is also the fourth ranking member of the Democratic leadership and also serves chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the most controversial issue with her appointment. However, none of the Republican members of the committee are up for re-election in 2012.
At first blush Senator Murray would be viewed as the primary guardian on the committee of the Democratic sacred cows including Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security and ensure that if cuts are made, that they are not offensive to current recipients or detrimental to the long-term solvency of the programs. However, Murray also has significant military interests in her state, including the Boeing Corporation which supplied her with a key endorsement last year during her hard won fight for re-election – a narrow 52%-48% victory. Defense interest also contributed more than $200,000 to her campaign.
Murray more than Kerry or Baucus will have an eye towards getting a deal done lest draconian cuts will be felt in entitlement programs and defense spending.
Based on his tenure in the Senate, his leadership of several powerful committees and his permanent inside-the-beltway residence, Senator Max Baucus is considered to be an ultimate insider who is respected for his ability to negotiate across the aisle. Baucus is chairman of both the Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid; as well as the Joint Committee on Taxation. He is a moderate Democrat who supported the Bush tax cuts as well as tax rules that favor businesses, and he also supports a long-term deficit reduction plan.
Baucus is accustomed to backroom negotiations as he was part of the original “Gang of Six” that worked to negotiate the final health care reform bill. He also participated in the Bowles-Simpson debt reduction commission, which he ultimately voted against. Baucus appears to have walked the political middle ground during the recent debt debate calling for a strong, bipartisan solution, but also supported revenue raises funding by corporations and wealthy Americans.
Senator John Kerry is the most outspoken on the debt ceiling issue with floor speeches, press conferences and appearances on Sunday morning TV. Best known for his current role as the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he also serves on the Finance Committee as well as the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee. While Murray will be the co-chair in practice on the committee, outsiders will watch Kerry for signs of progress or gridlock as the talks advance.
In addition to their commitment to long-term, bipartisan deficit reduction, each of these members has a lamb on the table if the “trigger” releasing dramatic cuts in domestic and foreign/defense spending is pulled after November 23. Therefore, all of them will have those dire consequences in mind during what are sure to be intense negotiations.http://voxglobal.com