- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Republican leaders Wednesday tapped six lawmakers with strong spending-cuts credentials to represent the party on the deficit supercommittee tasked with recommending $1.5 trillion in tax increases or spending cuts, sending a signal that the committee will focus heavily on trimming government.

House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, named three committee chairmen who all have pledged to find cutting room in the federal budget, while Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, appointed his deputy and two freshmen, one of whom was President George W. Bush’s budget director and the other a longtime tax-cutter with a record of demanding deeper spending cuts.

Those six lawmakers, and the three Senate Democrats named to the committee a day earlier, have pledged to keep an open mind, but the field is shaping up to be lean on deal-makers who could bridge the deep philosophical divide that the two parties staked out in the recent debt-ceiling debate.

The Republicans on the committee all focused heavily Wednesday on the growth of spending, both in the past decade and projected into the future.

“The exploding cost of health care is at the root of our long-term fiscal challenges,” said Rep. Fred Upton, Michigan Republican and chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee. “Much more needs to be done to bring down health care costs, promote economic growth and begin to tame runaway government.”

Democrats, meanwhile, have insisted that taxes be increased to make good on the Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid promises that the government has made over the decades.

“We look forward to working with our colleagues on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers to address these issues in a balanced, pragmatic and practical way,” the three Senate Democrats said in a joint statement Tuesday. “This is not going to be easy. Our challenge is to find common ground without damaging anyone’s principles. We believe we can get there.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, has yet to make her three selections. The law calls for the picks to be made by Tuesday.

The committee is required to report back by Thanksgiving with recommendations. Since the panel is evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, it will require bipartisanship to get something done.

But the stakes for failure are also high. If they can’t come up with at least $1.2 trillion in savings, last week’s debt deal imposes automatic spending cuts to defense spending and domestic programs, including the Medicare bureaucracy.

The outlines of the problem are clear: Treasury Department figures released Wednesday show the government’s deficit for 2011 already topped $1 trillion through July, with two months still to go in the fiscal year. That pace is down some from 2010’s record $1.5 trillion deficit, but already one of the three worst years in U.S. fiscal history.

The debt deal reached last week made only the slimmest of dents in the burgeoning federal debt.

In addition to Mr. Upton, Mr. Boehner’s picks Wednesday were Reps. Dave Camp of Michigan, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, and Jeb Hensarling of Texas, who runs the House Republican Conference.

The three Senate Democrats named late Tuesday by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada are Sens. Max Baucus of Montana, chairman of the Finance Committee; John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, the party’s 2004 presidential nominee and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee; and Patty Murray of Washington state, who is on both the Budget and Appropriations committees, and also serves as chairwoman of Senate Democrats’ political arm.

Rounding out the Senate six are Mr. McConnell’s picks: Jon Kyl of Arizona, the minority whip in the chamber; Rob Portman of Ohio, a freshman who served as Mr. Bush’s budget director; and Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania, another freshman who during six years in the House led the conservative rebellion against higher spending, and who more recently ran the anti-tax and anti-regulation Club for Growth.

Mr. Toomey said he is willing to look at streamlining the tax code to remove distorting tax breaks, such as those that go to ethanol promoters. But he rejected rate increases.

“If we tackle tax policy, and I hope we will be able to make progress on tax policy, I think the goals should be to broaden the base and lower rates,” he told reporters on a conference call.

Analysts said the selections so far suggest a committee that will struggle to find common ground, and with a few exceptions there are not many deal-makers or compromisers among the nine known members.

Three of the nine — Democrat Mr. Baucus and Republicans Mr. Camp and Mr. Hensarling — voted against the final December report from President Obama’s deficit commission, which recommended a mix of spending limits and cancellation of tax breaks.

Meanwhile, none of that commission’s “yes” votes will be part of this committee, nor will any of the members of the so-called “Gang of Six” senators, who independently crafted their own deficit-reduction package last month.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Murray’s selection drew outrage from Republicans, who said that because she also runs Senate Democrats’ campaign committee, it inevitably will inject politics into the conversation.

Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, who runs Senate Republicans’ campaign committee, said he told Mr. McConnell not to select him so he can keep the panel above reproach.

White House press secretary Jay Carney rejected the concerns as “silly criticism” and said Mr. McConnell has said his chief goal in politics is to defeat Mr. Obama.

“That’s OK because we know that we can put aside a lot of the partisan rhetoric and focus on what needs to get done,” Mr. Carney said.

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