Dem angst increases over supercommittee's secretive process

A growing number of Democrats are hammering the supercommittee process as both anti-democratic and lacking transparency.

Some of the lawmakers are wary that just 12 members would speak on behalf of the entire Congress, while others are critical that, just weeks before the panel’s deadline, the deliberations remain a black box to all but a few insiders.

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“This whole idea of a supercommittee is kind of a bad idea," Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.) told C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal” this month.

“This is not an open, transparent process,” he said. “This is not a deliberative process.”

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) said the panel has been put in the “impossible situation” of coming up with trillions of dollars in budget cuts in a short span of time. He decried “the notion that somehow in 10 weeks, we’re going to solve problems that have been decades in the making.”

“I didn’t believe in the parameters of the deal in the first place,” Blumenauer said. “This sequestering that’s going to take place? Raise your hand if you really think that these massive cuts in defense are going to be triggered automatically. It’s one of those things that takes a full decade [to do]. You’re not going to do it through the automatic sequestration, and it’ll be undercut.”

The budget supercommittee was created as a part of the law, passed over the summer, to hike the nation’s debt ceiling. The panel is charged with reducing deficit spending by at least $1.2 trillion over the next decade, or automatic cuts of that level, split evenly between defense and domestic programs, will kick in — the sequestration process Blumenauer referenced.

The panel’s deadline is Nov. 23, and Congress has until Dec. 23 to act on the recommendations. 

Senate Democrats also have a dim view of the panel. 

Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), the messaging guru for Senate Democrats, on Monday predicted the supercommittee would fail because of GOP opposition to including any tax increases in a deal. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in September said he’d heard so many negative comments about the panel that he wondered whether it had been a bad decision to set it up. Reid did say he felt reassured after Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Max Baucus (D-Mont.) were named to the panel. 

In developing the framework that guides the supercommittee, lawmakers tacitly acknowledged that Congress, given current levels of partisan polarization, likely couldn’t locate the political will to make tough budget choices through normal legislative channels.

McGovern put some of the blame for the supercommittee process on the White House, arguing that President Obama should have been more aggressive during the debt-ceiling debate. A number of liberal Democrats had urged the president to hike the debt limit unilaterally by invoking the 14th Amendment — a route McGovern said he would have taken.

“I wouldn’t have allowed our country to be held hostage to this kind of a process, which is not open,” McGovern said.

“We have no idea what the supercommittee is going to come up with, and yet you have people who are on various committees that have expertise in certain areas who, if this were under an open, deliberative process, would have legislation work its way through committees.”

Some committee chairmen agree. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, suggested recently that the panel’s failure would be preferable, as it would lend committee heads like himself greater sway over the cuts under sequestration.

 “We can maneuver those [automatic cuts] around, and quite frankly, that might be the better path to take,” Harkin said last month on C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers.”

“I don’t have any fear of moving ahead without the supercommittee involvement,” he added. “In fact, in some ways I think we might be better off if we didn’t have something from the supercommittee and moved ahead through the normal legislative process.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has also faulted the supercommittee, warning that the closed-door nature of the deliberations threatens to undermine any proposal that ultimately emerges.

“It cannot be a product of secrecy,” Pelosi said late last month. “They may want to narrow issues that will be made … but that has to be done in a public way. … In order for our members to embrace this, they have to know more about it and know why it has come to the place that it has.”