WASHINGTON—The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction—colloquially known as the debt super committee or Super Congress—finally began its work on Sept. 8. Co-chairs Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), and the other 10 members, held the committee’s inaugural meeting. It was the first time that Murray and Hensarling had met.
The super committee was born out of the Budget Control Act, the debt ceiling compromise bill that was passed at the 11th hour by Congress early last month. The membership comprises equal numbers of legislators from both parties and both chambers of Congress.
The Budget Control Act charged the committee with identifying between $1.2 trillion and $1.5 trillion in budget savings over the next decade, in addition to the other cuts already enumerated in the Budget Control Act itself.
If the committee fails to come to an agreement, or if their recommendations fail to satisfy the rest of Congress, a sequestration of funds, or automatic cut of $1.2 trillion—which will reduce domestic and defense spending equally—will be triggered. The sequestration is an outcome that both sides wish to avoid.
While members of both parties have publicly stressed the grave necessity of working together and bridging the gap between Democrats and Republicans, the committee is subject to the same partisanship that has dogged previous attempts at deficit reduction, such as President Obama’s Simpson-Bowles Commission and the debt ceiling debate.
Murray said in her opening remarks: “I hear from so many families about the jobs crisis that is devastating the middle class and that we need to work together as a nation to address. I hear from businesses that are struggling—especially small businesses—that are having a tough time creating the jobs that millions of Americans are desperate to fill.
“And, because of this sluggish economy—as well as for structural and policy reasons—our federal government is facing deep, short- and long-term deficits—and a growing national debt that, if left unchecked, will be an overwhelming burden handed down for our children and grandchildren to bear.
Congressional Republicans have stressed the need to reform entitlements such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, and have resisted the idea of increasing taxes.
“If [the debt is] financed through borrowing, interest payments alone would crush our economy. If financed through taxes, the tax burden would have to more than double; a burden never dreamed of by the American people and the businesses which employ them,” said Hensarling in a statement.
“In order to succeed, I know this committee must be primarily about the business of saving and reforming social safety net programs that are not only failing many beneficiaries, but going broke at the same time,” he said.
Some members, notably Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), have been resistant to the idea of further cuts to defense spending. The defense budget already suffered a $400 billion cut over the next 10 years in the debt ceiling compromise.
Speaking at a luncheon event jointly sponsored by the Foreign Policy Initiative, the Heritage Foundation, and the American Enterprise Institute—all conservative organizations—after the committee meeting on Thursday, Kyl told his audience, “I’m off the committee” if further cuts to defense spending are planned.
Democrats, in contrast, have resisted the idea of reforming entitlements, instead pushing for tax increases on the wealthiest Americans and further cuts to defense spending. Democrats have also emphasized the need to tackle the nation’s jobs and employment situation and strengthen the American economy as a means to reducing the deficit.
“There’s broad understanding among us that economic growth and job creation are the best ways to reduce the deficit and debt,” said Sen. Murray in her opening statement.
Congress will either pass or reject the committee’s proposals by a simple up-or-down vote on Dec. 23.
According to Hensarling, the committee has scheduled its next meeting for Tuesday, Sept. 13, when Dr. Doug Elmendorf of the CBO will testify before the committee on the causes and drivers of the national debt and deficit.