‘Supercommittee’ membership already a source of contention

Congressional leaders have until Aug. 16 to name the 12 members of the newly created “supercommittee” to deal with reducing the deficit, but special interest groups are wasting no time in pushing their choices for the panel.

The debt-ceiling-increase legislation enacted Tuesday created a bicameral, joint committee of 12 legislators charged with finding at least $1.2 trillion in deficit cuts by Nov. 23. 

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The Republican and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate each will pick three members for the committee, and a majority of seven members is enough to ensure up-or-down votes in Congress for the plan. Failure to come up with a plan will result in deep automatic defense and Medicare cuts. 

One wrong pick, lobbyists on the right and left said Wednesday, could swing the panel toward a terrible compromise. So they are not taking chances. 

These sources are already urging leaders to pick top lieutenants who will stick to party positions — no entitlement cuts for Democrats and no tax increases for Republicans. 

They said the supercommittee likely will resemble the group of debt negotiators led by Vice President Biden, with committee chairs or deputy leaders who can pass a loyalty “litmus test.”

Defense groups have a different perspective, however, and want a supercommittee that can compromise and shift cuts away from defense. 

Budget experts and centrist aides, on the other hand, want to see compromisers like the Senate Gang of Six put on the committee — in the hopes of a “grand bargain” — but some acknowledge this as unlikely given the outside pressure.

“Fat chance,” Concord Coalition Executive Director Bob Bixby said. 

Lobbyists and congressional aides said the greatest uncertainty surrounds the picks of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who is under pressure from centrist Democrats to name one or more Gang of Six members. 

An aide to a centrist Senate Democrat said it looks increasingly unlikely that such Gang members as Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) will be appointed.

“Abandoning those who are willing to compromise — those who have proven they are willing to compromise — will all but ensure the committee will fail,” the aide said. “It will also ensure that the majority in the middle will view it with serious skepticism.” 

Pressure from Senate centrists has liberals nervous about Reid opening the door to entitlement cuts. 

Lobbyists from the right and left alike predicted House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is very likely to pick liberal members of her caucus similar to those chosen for the president’s fiscal commission: Reps. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), or such loyalists to leadership as Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who served in the Biden talks. 

Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist agreed that Reid has the tougher choice because 10 centrist Democrats up for reelection in 2012 are so vulnerable. 

Norquist said he has already been assured by “the right people” that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will not choose anyone willing to give ground on raising taxes, and he is confident enough to leave town on Wednesday for August vacation. 

Norquist said he would like Boehner to name House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.).

He said he would be “fine” with leadership using the opportunity to give a conservative freshman the chance to shine, mentioning Rep. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.).

Similarly, with respect to the Senate, Norquist can see McConnell appointing a young gun like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) to the panel to give him a bigger platform. He said he would like to see Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) appointed. 

Norquist does not want to see former Gang of Six Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) or Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) on board because they made “troubling” statements in support of revenue increases during the deficit negotiations this spring. He said that if Gang of Six Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) made stronger commitments to oppose taxes, he could be OK with that appointment. 

National Taxpayers Union lobbyist Andrew Moylan said his group is pushing for Coburn, Crapo and Chambliss to be excluded from the panel, but is not yet floating other suggestions. He said NTU does not want to take the chance that a compromise including revenue-raisers gets put before the House, even though Boehner has said the House would vote such a plan down. 

A congressional aide said House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) is urging leaders to include representation from Congress’s security panels.

“What is clear is we have cut what we can from the Department of Defense, and given what’s at stake it is essential that the joint committee include strong national-security voices,” McKeon said in a statement.

At a Monday afternoon meeting called by Boehner with members of the Armed Services Committee, to allay their concerns of decimating defense cuts, one lawmaker suggested appointing a member of the Armed Services Committee such as Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) or Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.).

A source added that Boehner neither ruled out nor embraced the suggestion.

The defense and aerospace industry’s top trade association is pushing for a defense hawk to be named.

“It is essential that the supercommittee includes bipartisan representation from the Senate and House Armed Services committees as well as the Senate and House Appropriations subcommittees on Defense,” the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) said in a statement. 

AIA Vice President Fred Downey said the group would be making its case to Capitol Hill directly, and believes it is better for the supercommittee not to deadlock, but to come up with cuts that remove the threat of the trigger to the Pentagon.

But defense-industry analyst Gordon Adams said he sees the supercommittee deadlocking after the appointment of members loyal to leadership with diametrically opposed views.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said Wednesday he’s been receiving “a lot of calls and emails” from Republican legislators about serving on the supercommittee. Cantor did not say whether he wants to serve on the panel. 

Daniel Strauss, Molly K. Hooper and John T. Bennett contributed.