- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 7, 2011

On the eve of Thursday’s first public meeting of a new congressional deficit reduction “supercommittee,” party leaders say they are confident the panel will rise above partisan rancor - despite wide disagreement on how best to achieve its goal.

“Let me say this about the joint committee: Failure is not an option,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.

“We have put very serious people on there who are interested in getting an outcome for the country, and we fully anticipate they will meet their goals.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said initially he wasn’t sold on the idea of the committee but “now believes it will be an effective vehicle for cutting spending and growing economy.”

Mr. Reid added he won’t “micromanage” the three Senate Democrats he appointed to the panel, which is charged with finding as much as $1.5 trillion to trim from the federal deficit during the next decade.

House Minority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said he has spoken with 10 of the 12 members of the bipartisan panel and is confident it can succeed where other committees have failed.

“I have made it very clear to each one of them that I want to work with them and to use whatever influence and abilities I have to accomplish success in aiding a consensus within the committee,” he said.

Lawmakers from both parties have said the committee should incorporate ideas from past congressional groups that searched for ways to cut the debt and deficit, including a panel headed by former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson and former President Clinton’s chief of staff, Erskine Bowles, and another led by former GOP Sen. Pete Domenici and former Bill Clinton adviser Alice Rivlin.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, said he hoped the supercommittee also will glean ideas from another deficit reduction group lead this year by Vice President Joseph R. Biden, a panel on which Mr. Cantor was a member before walking away in frustration.

“I’m hopeful the joint select committee can use those findings [from the Biden group] as a basis for their work,” he said.

Just where the savings can be found is uncertain.

Edwin Park, vice president for health policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said he is worried that potential cuts that would reduce the federal government’s share of paying for entitlement programs would leave states to pick up more of the tab - such as a widely touted proposal to cut Medicaid costs by transforming the program into block grants.

“What we’re most concerned about is many of the deficit reduction ideas on the table are actually about shifting costs,” Mr. Park said. “They don’t actually control health care costs.”

Democrats are pushing for a jobs package to accompany the deficit plan, saying the two go hand in hand.

“You can’t bring down the debt and deficit in the long term if you don’t grow the economy,” Mr. Hoyer said. “This is a two-pronged attack that we must have.”

Republicans counter that reducing government regulations and cutting taxes - not creating new government programs - is the best way to spur job growth.

The deficit panel, born of this summer’s bitter debt- and deficit-reduction battle, includes six members from both the House and Senate equally divided by party. It’s gathering Thursday is considered an “organizational meeting,” with its first public hearing scheduled for Tuesday.

The panel must vote by Thanksgiving on a 10-year plan to cut the deficit by $1.5 trillion, which the House and Senate must vote on before Christmas. Failure to pass a package would trigger $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts that would affect a wide range of domestic programs, as well as the Pentagon.

• Sean Lengell can be reached at slengell@washingtontimes.com.

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