Supercommittee is punching bag for GOP presidential hopefuls

Republican presidential candidates are using the debt-ceiling supercommittee as a punching bag, earning plaudits from conservative primary voters in the process.

Two of the GOP candidates have ripped into the idea of forming a supercommittee to reduce the deficit, calling it "stupid" and "dumb." Only one major GOP candidate for president has endorsed the bipartisan legislation that created the supercommittee.

"Look, I think this supercommittee is about as dumb an idea as Washington has come up with in my lifetime," former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) said at Thursday night's debate, one of his biggest applause lines of the night.

Debt-ceiling politics are intertwined with the race for the Republican presidential nomination, but only former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman (R) endorsed the agreement, which was produced in part by GOP congressional leaders and enjoyed healthy, if not robust, support from GOP lawmakers.

The opinion of the rest of the field ranged from opposition to the compromise — like former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R), for instance — to outright opposition to any deal to raise the nation's borrowing authority, as voiced by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.).

Those debt politics extend to the new supercommittee, which is charged with developing a plan to reduce the deficit in exchange for a second hike in the debt ceiling. The panel, made up of 12 members — three senators and three House members from each party — is tasked with producing a plan this fall. The plan will receive an up-or-down vote in Congress, and if it fails, automatic cuts to defense and domestic budgets will be triggered.

"I think it’s super stupid,” Pawlenty said at a breakfast in Iowa on Friday organized by Politico. “We have a Congress and we have a president. Do your job.”

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced their appointments to the new panel this week. The GOP appointees — Sens. Jon Kyl (Ariz.), Rob Portman (Ohio) and Pat Toomey (Pa.), along with Reps. Jeb Hensarling (Texas), Dave Camp (Mich.) and Fred Upton (Mich.) — are generally well-regarded conservatives. Nonetheless, suspicion of the negotiations runs high among the candidates.

Part of that misgiving is attributable to the committee's six Democratic members, many of whom are stalwarts who might insist on tax hikes or resist entitlement reforms during negotiations. The Republicans running for the presidential nomination can't afford to be seen in the eyes of voters as supportive of any tax increase.

That sentiment led all the candidates to state their opposition to a so-called "grand bargain" that the supercommittee would hypothetically produce, containing 10 parts spending cuts for every one part in spending hikes.