The joint-committee formed by the Budget Control Act of 2011(BCA) to reduce federal budget deficits by $1.2 trillion is taking shape with nine of the 12 members now made public. Thus far, the choices appear more moderate than feared, increasing the chances that an agreement will be reached.
The BCA gave the joint-committee, commonly referred to as the "super committee," a significant amount of authority. If at least 7 of the twelve members agree to a bill, both houses of Congress must vote on the bill. There can be no amendments added to the bill on the House or Senate floor, and senators will not be allowed to filibuster the bill. If the committee fails to pass a bill, or if Congress fails to pass the committee's bill, automatic-spending cuts will take effect.
The joint-committee assignments are made by Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
On Tuesday, Reid selected Democratic Senators Patty Murray (Wash.), Max Baucus (Mont.) and John Kerry (Mass.).
Murray was designated by Reid to co-chair the joint-committee. His choice of Murray more than likely centers around the fact she is a senior member on the powerful appropriations and budget committees and brings experience that will prove important in the budget negotiations.
But her appointment to the joint committee has caused some controversy because of her chairmanship of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which is in charge of helping Democratic Senate candidates win elections. Critics worry that she will be too focused on helping Democrats win in November to effectively negotiate a bipartisan compromise.
Baucus, a Democrat who represents a conservative leaning state, has shown a willingness to compromise with Republicans on tax cuts. Some deficit hawks, however, worry about Baucus because he voted against the Bowles-Simpson deficit commission plan.
Kerry was the Democratic nominee for president in 2004 when George W. Bush was reelected. Sources say he actively lobbied to be on the committee and may see it as an opportunity to establish his legacy in Congress. Kerry has shown a willingness to compromise when he has worked with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on foreign policy issues in the Middle East. Plus, of the Democrats selected for the committee, Kerry is the most likely to resist budget cuts that go too deep into the defense budget.
Together, the three picks suggest that Reid, who pushed for the idea of the joint committee in the first place, is eager to see the effort succeed. The Senate Majority Leaders choices also revealed his conservative Democratic roots (especially with the Baucus pick), which have been mostly out of sight since he assumed a leadership role in the Democratic caucus.
McConnell chose Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.).
Kyl is the Assistant Minority Leader, sometimes called the Minority Whip, the second highest-ranking position among Senate Republicans.
Portman was elected to the Senate in the Republican sweep of 2010; however, he has prior legislative and budget experience. He formerly served in the House of Representatives in the 1990s and was played a roll in the budget fights with President Bill Clinton. Also, he was President George W. Bush's Director of the Office of Management and Budget. In that position, he needed a thorough familiarity with the federal budget, experience that will come in handy on the joint committee.
Toomey, like Portman, is a freshman with a solid background. He also served in the House, and was president of Club for Growth, a special interest group that supports balanced budgets and less government intervention in the economy. The joint committee will be addressing tax reform, an issue that Toomey has fought for as Club for Growth president. Toomey was supported by the Tea Party in his Senate race, but he will likely be more willing to negotiate than his Tea Party label would suggest.
Portman and Toomey are also both from swing states in the Midwest - Ohio and Pennsylvania, respectively. This suggests that they will show greater moderation than senators from a strongly Republican state.
Boehner's picks are Dave Camp (Mich.), Fred Upton (Mich.) and Jeb Hensarling (Texas).
Camp chairs the Ways and Means Committee, which is in charge of tax policy. With tax reform on the joint committee agenda, Boehner likely thought it important to appoint a member of this committee.
Upton chairs the Energy and Commerce committee. He was probably selected to represent the “Tuesday Group,” an informal group of moderate House Republicans.
Hensarling will chair the committee, along with Murray. As chair of the Republican conference, he is the highest-ranking House Republican leader on the joint committee.
Who are some of the key players who were not picked for the coveted “super committee?”
Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Chair of the House Budget Committee, has been leading the House's efforts to reform the federal budget. In a statement on Wednesday, Ryan said he asked to be left off the committee so he could continue working on the budget through the normal legislative process.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) played an important role in the White House negotiations over raising the debt ceiling, essentially representing the conservative wing of his party. Boehner may have thought there was too much acrimony between Cantor and Democrats after the intense debt ceiling negotiations.
Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), Chair of the House Armed Services Committee, had asked Boehner to include someone with knowledge of Department of Defense issues because of the defense cuts that would go into effect if the joint-committee fails. None of the Republicans from McKeon's committee were selected.
Reid or McConnell appointed none of the “Gang of Six”. The Gang of Six included three Senate Democrats, Mark Warner (Va.), Dick Durbin (Ill.) and Kent Conrad (N.D.), and three Senate Republicans, Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), Mike Crapo (Idaho), and Tom Coburn (Okla.). They had been working since January on crafting a $4 trillion deficit reduction package that could gain bipartisan support. Their work could provide a framework for the joint-committee negotiations; so leaving them off the committee came as a surprise.
The formation of a joint-committee that would be unable to come to an agreement has been a chief concern. The picks so far show a wealth of experience on the federal budget and the policy process in general. Though exclusion of the gang of six was a disappointment to budget hawks, the inclusion of several experienced moderates on the joint-committee increases its chances of reaching an agreement.
Pelosi is the only leader who has yet to announce her choices.