Deficit hawks see little hope for grand bargain in Reid’s 'supercommittee' picks

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“This is a bit of a blow for those of us who want a real, broad and balanced outcome from the [supercommittee] that begins to change the debt trajectory. I have been one of the few optimists in town on the [panel’s] potential,” Bell said. “After talking to senior House staff and discussing with other folks these choices, I guess I am falling down the ramp to the conventional wisdom.”

“I wonder if political folks understand that the world is watching in bewilderment,” Bell added.

Deficit hawk and Concord Coalition executive director Bob Bixby said Baucus’s vote last year against the deficit plan crafted by President Obama’s fiscal commission is “troubling.”

“The pick that is most questionable, however, is Patty Murray. She is certainly qualified for the job, but her position as chair of the Senate Democrats campaign effort sends a signal, intended or not, that Reid is primarily concerned with positioning for 2012. So the fact that Reid has appointed his caucus campaign chair and a Simpson-Bowles dissenter as two of his three picks does not bode well for a ‘grand bargain.’” Bixby said.

Defense analyst Gordon Adams predicted last week that the committee would be made up of leadership loyalists and said that scenario diminished the chances for a bipartisan compromise.

In making his picks, Reid snubbed members of the Senate Gang of Six who had been willing to cut entitlements in exchange for revenue raisers.

Budget experts said that fact appeared to make it less likely that the supercommittee can be the vehicle for coming up with the $4 trillion in deficit cuts over 10 years needed to stabilize the national debt.

The path to that level of cuts appears to involve a compromise, backed by President Obama, that would include entitlement reforms and tax increases.

Gang of Six member and budget committee chairman Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said he will try to remain relevant to the process.

“I will do all I can to help them and the committee produce the fair and balanced plan so important for our country.  This is a time for all members to work together to achieve a result that will put our nation on a firmer foundation for the future,” he said in a statement praising his colleagues.

While deficit hawks have little faith in Baucus and Murray’s willingness to forge a grand bargain, they have been saying positive things about Kerry. 

Experts pointed out that Kerry attended Gang of Six briefings, and while he did not wholeheartedly endorse its plan, he said positive things about it. The plan included Social Security and Medicare cuts as well as tax reform that increased revenue.  

Kerry called the proposal “hopeful and constructive” last month.

“Kerry is a great choice,” Bixby said.

“He has prestige and a willingness to work across the aisle," he said. "Maybe Kerry can play the senior statesman role and help forge consensus."

Bell agrees that the best hopes for a bipartisan compromise rest with Kerry.

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Gordon Adams pointed out that Kerry will be motivated to avoid automatic defense cuts that hurt America's international standing. Those cuts are triggered if the supercommittee fails to find a minimum of $1.2 trillion in deficit cuts.

Kerry has liberals nervous, however, even though he has been on the attack against Tea Party Republicans, most recently blaming them for a downgrade of the U.S. credit rating.

“Like President Obama, Kerry is fatally attracted to the notion of a grand bargain, sacrificing cuts in Medicare and Social Security in exchange for increased revenues to reduce long term deficits. And he is simply wrong-headed about what the nation must do in order to get the economy on track,” Robert Borosage of the Campaign for America’s Future said in a statement. 

The supercommittee appointments must be completed by Aug. 16 and must vote on a plan by Nov. 23. That plan gets an up-or-down vote by Christmas in both chambers. In the wake of last week’s downgrade of the U.S. credit rating by Standard & Poor’s, pressure has increased for the group to go beyond its mandate to find $1.5 trillion in cuts. 

The supercommittee, evenly divided by party, can approve a plan by a simple majority of its 12 members. That means only one Republican or Democrat has to defect from their party's opening position for its plan to come to a vote. 

GOP leaders announced their appointees to the deficit panel Wednesday: Reps. Dave Camp (Mich.), Fred Upton (Mich.) and Jeb Hensarling (Texas), along with Sens. Jon Kyl (Ariz.), Rob Portman (Ohio) and Pat Toomey (Pa.).