The Intersection: Aug 2011

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The Senate Republicans

The likelihood and the definition of success for the super committee are much debatable.  So too is the amount of autonomy any individual member will be inclined or allowed to exercise.  Nevertheless, Republican Senate selections for the super committee seem to indicate that Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is sincerely interested in a positive result.  His choices appear to have been made for strategically substantive reasons.   The team includes an elected party leader, a budget wonk and a devout free market conservative.  Each has a critical role to play and provides an interesting contrast to their Democrat counterparts.

It’s notable that five of six Republican members of the super committee represent constituents who chose Barack Obama over John McCain in 2008. The slate includes those who conservatives cheer admiringly and those who they eye suspiciously.  Eschewing this diversity, with one exception, Democrats have seated a team of coastal, electorally-safe, establishment liberals.

Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) serves as the Republican Whip and is tasked with building support and counting votes for policies supported by the minority.  These skills will prove critical in securing Republican approval if a compromise is reached by the committee.  While Democrat co-chair Patty Murray’s (D-WA) leadership position is aimed at fundraising, defeating Republicans, and electing Democrats, Kyl is the only member of the super committee without an interest in his or her own electoral chances, having already announced his retirement after the 2012 elections.  Reliably conservative and respected as a hard worker, freedom from his political future may prove to be an interesting twist to his efforts on the committee.

Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) is perhaps best known as the former U.S. Trade Representative and Director of the Office of Management and Budget.  Those who succeed in these posts tend to be adept at managing competing interests whether foreign or domestic and are usually less political than many other cabinet-level officials.  Like former OMB Director Leon Panetta, Portman is respected by both parties as a straight shooter who cares about doing his job.

As does Senate Finance Chairman and Democrat super committee member Max Baucus (D-MT), Portman represents a state that voted for the other party’s candidate in 2008.  Beyond his professionalism, the political reality of serving a middle-of-the-road swing state should weigh into his actions in the coming months.  As a member of the Budget Committee he is intimately familiar with the twists and turns of the nation’s revenue and expenses.  But as a member of the Armed Services Committee he is also well aware of the fact that automatic cuts triggered by the committee’s failure could severely impact the tens of thousands of Ohioans who work in the defense industry.

Like Portman, Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) represents a state that voted for President Obama in 2008.  While reliably Democrat in recent presidential races, the Commonwealth readily switches parties in statewide elections, and Toomey’s reelection is anything but certain.  First gaining prominence by losing a hard-fought primary challenge to then-liberal Republican Senator Arlen Specter (D/R-PA), Toomey went on to lead the Club for Growth, an uncompromising,  free-market advocacy group.

A limited government and populist counterpoint to establishment liberal stalwart Senator John Kerry (D-MA), Toomey will serve a similar role as his House colleague Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX).  Hensarling is joined by two Midwestern moderate Republicans (whose districts voted for President Obama) and his blessing will go a long way to ease conservative concerns about any possible deal.  While his Senate colleagues have impeccable conservative credentials, Toomey is still viewed as less-tarnished by Beltway politics and enjoys a greater degree of confidence among those who might look askance at most compromises reached by the super committee.


Chris Matthews

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