Pelosi Appoints 3 on Her Team to Complete the Deficit-Reduction Committee
By Robert Pear and Jennifer Steinhauer
August 11, 2011
WASHINGTON -- The House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, rounded out the membership of a powerful new deficit-reduction panel on Thursday by appointing three of her top lieutenants who have led opposition to cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
The new appointees are Representatives Xavier Becerra of California, the vice chairman of the House Democratic Caucus; James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, the assistant House Democratic leader; and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the senior Democrat on the Budget Committee.
In announcing her picks, Ms. Pelosi said the new panel, the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, must find ways to stimulate economic growth and create jobs.
Mr. Van Hollen articulated the Democrats' theme: "Putting America back to work is the best and most immediate way to reduce our deficit."
Within hours of the announcement, the Investment Company Institute, a trade association for mutual fund companies, sent out invitations to a fund-raiser for Mr. Becerra prominently citing his role on the panel.
"This will be Mr. Becerra's first event since being named" to the panel and "could give all attendees a glimpse into what will most assuredly be the primary topic of discussion between now and the end of the year," said invitations to the Aug. 31 event, sent by James R. Hart, a lobbyist for the institute. The suggested contribution is $1,500 a person.
The event was planned before Mr. Becerra's selection. Ianthe Zabel, a spokeswoman for the institute, said the group "takes full responsibility for the language in the outgoing e-mail and the decision to send it out Thursday afternoon."
The invitations illustrate the lobbying frenzy touched off by the new panel, which will have wide latitude to propose changes in tax policy and spending, including entitlement programs and the Pentagon budget. A bill written by the panel would not be open to amendment and would go onto a fast track intended to guarantee that both houses of Congress vote on it by Dec. 23.
With the 12 panel members now named, lawmakers and lobbyists were trying to calculate its chances for success.
The panel members are all team players. They represent their caucuses and the Congressional leaders who appointed them. Prospects for a deal thus depend on the leadership of both parties. It is difficult to envision an agreement without their support.
Senator Jon Kyl, Republican of Arizona, is a loyal lieutenant of the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, and is unlikely to agree to any compromise that would displease him.
A co-chairwoman of the panel, Senator Patty Murray of Washington, is a member of the Senate Democratic leadership team and is likely to discourage other Democrats on the panel from straying from the party line.
Republicans have criticized the selection of Mrs. Murray because she is also the chairwoman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which is largely focused on helping vulnerable Democratic senators up for re-election in 2012.
Among Democratic women, there was some grumbling that the criticism of Mrs. Murray was unfair and smacked of sexism. "There isn't one member who is sitting on that supercommittee that isn't trying to elect their own candidates to the House and Senate," said Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California. "The Republicans had the opportunity to name women and minorities to this committee, and they didn't do that. They should ask themselves why their appointees don't reflect the makeup of this country."
Some panel members, like Mr. Becerra and the Republican co-chairman, Representative Jeb Hensarling of Texas, have over the years repeatedly highlighted differences between the parties on issues that will preoccupy the committee for the next 15 weeks.
If a majority of the panel reaches agreement, lawmakers said, it is likely to grow out of a consensus fostered by a handful of potential dealmakers like Senators John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, and Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio.
Two other panel members who lead the tax-writing committees of Congress could conceivably nudge the group toward a deal that raises revenue without increasing tax rates. Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana and chairman of the Finance Committee, and Representative Dave Camp, Republican of Michigan and chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, have held many hearings on proposals to overhaul the tax code.
Mr. Camp said Thursday that he would not rule out tax changes that generate additional revenue as a result of economic growth.
"I don't want to rule anything in or out," Mr. Camp said in an interview with Reuters. "I am willing to discuss all issues that might help us reduce our short- and long-term debt and grow our economy. Everything is on the table, until we as a group rule it out."
"Economic growth and job creation in the private sector -- that's what we need to use as a benchmark about any policy, but particularly tax policy," Mr. Camp added.
President Obama and Democratic leaders in Congress say additional revenue must be part of any deficit-reduction deal. Republicans have adamantly opposed tax increases.
The economic malaise in the United States and the debt crisis in Europe could jolt some panel members out of entrenched positions. Pressure for a deal may also come from investors and credit rating agencies like Standard & Poor's, which cited "political risks" and the rising debt burden in the United States when it lowered its rating of long-term Treasury securities last week.
The new deficit-reduction law could also prompt panel members to seek a deal because if they fail to agree, the government would cut spending across the board in a wide range of popular programs.
Mr. Becerra is the senior Democrat on the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security. He sharply criticized a proposal, advanced by White House officials, to reduce the annual cost-of-living adjustment in Social Security benefits by using a different measure of inflation.
Mr. Van Hollen led opposition to the budget blueprint that Republicans pushed through the House in April. He said the Republican plan would savage Medicare by giving each beneficiary a fixed, inadequate amount of money to buy private insurance.
As the House Democratic whip in 2009-10, Mr. Clyburn helped pass Mr. Obama's health care overhaul, which was approved on a party-line vote without Republican support.
In a joint statement on Thursday, 23 Democratic senators said the new panel should "put jobs first" and "explicitly embrace job creation as a part of its mission."
"The single best deficit-reduction strategy is economic growth," the group said in a letter to Mr. McConnell.
The Democratic senators, led by Jeff Merkley of Oregon, said that putting people back to work would reduce federal spending by reducing the demand for unemployment benefits, food stamps, Medicaid and other assistance.