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Pelosi Chooses Clyburn, Van Hollen, Becerra For Deficits Super Panel

Aug 11, 2011

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Three lawmakers who are typically forceful advocates for a progressive agenda were picked by Rep. Nancy Pelosi to fill out the supercommittee that will propose more than $1 trillion in federal spending cuts meant to reduce federal deficits.

Pelosi, the House minority leader, chose representatives Jim Clyburn of S. Carolina, Chris Van Hollen of Maryland and Xavier Becerra of California to represent House Democrats on the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction.

With her selections, the 12-member committee is now complete. For what it's worth, the committee also now has its first members from minority groups — Clyburn an African American and Becerra, a Latino-American.

Clyburn is a member of Pelosi's leadership team, holding the post of assistant minority leader. He is widely held to be the most important black politician in South Carolina.

Van Hollen, former chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, is now the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee. Becerra is vice chair of the House Democratic caucus.

Pelosi's picks will do little to alleviate fears that the supercommittee will wind up stalemated.

Several of the the Republicans on the committee — including representatives Dave Camp, Jeb Hensarling and Fred Upton — have opposed in the past to tax increases to reduce deficits.

Meanwhile, the House Democrats on the committee aren't likely to accept easily the kinds of cuts to domestic programs, especially those targeted at helping the poor, young and students that Republicans are expected to call for.

If the supercommittee can't reach agreement on legislation to reduce deficits over a ten-year period by more than $1 trillion, then automatic across-the-board cuts are required by the recently enacted legislation that raised the debt ceiling after a partisan fight that brought the nation to the brink of default.

The fear of such draconian cuts was meant to force the lawmakers on the panel to reach an agreement on spending cuts and Congress to approve their agreement.

But, again, it's difficult to see how the panel gets to such an agreement unless at least one or more lawmakers are willing to cross party lines.

The other committee members are Democratic senators John Kerry, Massachusetts; Patty Murray, Washington, and Max Baucus, Montana. The Republican senators are Jon Kyl, Arizona; Rob Portman, Ohio, and Pat Toomey, Pennsylvania.

David Walker, former U.S. comptroller general and who now heads the Comeback America Initiative, had some fairly trenchant analysis of the committee now that it's fully constituted:

"The four Congressional leaders appointed substantive and capable Members who are well respected within their respective caucuses to the Joint Committee for deficit reduction ("Joint Committee"). However, there are several key points regarding the appointments that should be a matter of real concern.

First, all of the Republican appointees have signed the Americans for Tax Reform pledge. As a result, they are unlikely to be willing to put revenues on the table unless it is part of comprehensive tax reform. While comprehensive tax reform is needed and will happen in time, it is unlikely to occur until after the 2012 elections. Second, one of the Senate appointees and three of the House appointees, including the House Co-Chair of the Joint Committee, voted against the Simpson/ Bowles Commission recommendations while none of the members of the Simpson Bowles Commission who voted for the recommendations were appointed to the Committee. Third, the Senate Co-Chair of the Commission, while well qualified to address the Joint Commission's issues, is head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee which is an inherently very partisan position. Finally, one of the Senate appointees and one of the House appointees voted against the legislation that created the Joint Committee.

All of the above factors could prove as roadblocks to gaining agreement on a substantive plan that will avoid across the board cuts. At the same time, only one person needs to cross the political aisle to achieve the simple majority that will lead to a guaranteed vote in the Congress.

Given the recent downgrading of U.S. debt by S+P and the subsequent dramatic declines in the stock market, the Joint Committee needs to raise the bar on its mission. It should seek to achieve at least $3 trillion in deficit reduction over 10-years rather than the legislation's $1.5 trillion target. It should also be careful to do so in a manner that does not increase the possibility of a double dip recession or undercut efforts to reduce the current levels of unemployment and underemployment."

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