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‘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 ReidHarry Mason ReidSchumer becomes new Senate majority leader Biden faces tall order in uniting polarized nation Senators vet Mayorkas to take lead at DHS MORE (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 BecerraXavier BecerraSunday shows preview: All eyes on Biden administration to tackle coronavirus Senate chaos threatens to slow Biden's agenda OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Court strikes down Trump coal power plant rule | Green groups sue after Trump administration strips bird protections | Trump administration rushes to wrap Arctic oil leases on last day in office MORE (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 BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerCan the GOP break its addiction to show biz? House conservatives plot to oust Liz Cheney Ex-Speaker Boehner after Capitol violence: 'The GOP must awaken' MORE (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden leans on Obama-era appointees on climate Kentucky Republican committee rejects resolution urging McConnell to condemn Trump impeachment Calls grow for 9/11-style panel to probe Capitol attack MORE (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 BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerCan the GOP break its addiction to show biz? House conservatives plot to oust Liz Cheney Ex-Speaker Boehner after Capitol violence: 'The GOP must awaken' MORE to name House Budget Committee Chairman Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanBiden's inauguration marked by conflict of hope and fear The Hill's 12:30 Report: Sights and sounds from Inauguration Day Revising the pardon power — let the Speaker and Congress have voices MORE (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 RubioMarco Antonio RubioSunday shows preview: All eyes on Biden administration to tackle coronavirus Rubio: Biden 'talking like a centrist' but governing 'from the radical left' The Hill's Morning Report - Biden's crisis agenda hits headwinds MORE (R-Fla.) to the panel to give him a bigger platform. He said he would like to see Sens. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchMellman: What happened after Ginsburg? Bottom line Bottom line MORE (R-Utah) and Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsHarris to resign from Senate seat on Monday Rosenstein: Zero tolerance immigration policy 'never should have been proposed or implemented' Sessions, top DOJ officials knew 'zero tolerance' would separate families, watchdog finds MORE (R-Ala.) appointed. 

Norquist does not want to see former Gang of Six Sens. Tom CoburnThomas (Tom) Allen CoburnDemocrats step up hardball tactics in Supreme Court fight COVID response shows a way forward on private gun sale checks Inspector general independence must be a bipartisan priority in 2020 MORE (R-Okla.) or Saxby ChamblissClarence (Saxby) Saxby ChamblissLive coverage: Georgia Senate runoffs Trump, Biden face new head-to-head contest in Georgia Ex-GOP senator from Georgia suffers mild stroke: report MORE (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 CrapoMichael (Mike) Dean CrapoOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden's Interior Department temporarily blocks new drilling on public lands | Group of GOP senators seeks to block Biden moves on Paris, Keystone | Judge grants preliminary approval for 0M Flint water crisis settlement Sweeping COVID-19, spending deal hits speed bumps McConnell in tough position as House eyes earmark return MORE (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 ForbesJames (Randy) Randy ForbesOvernight Defense: US sanctions NATO ally Turkey over Russian defense system | Veterans groups, top Democrats call for Wilkie's resignation | Gingrich, other Trump loyalists named to Pentagon board Gingrich, other Trump loyalists named to Pentagon advisory panel Bottom line MORE (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 CantorEric Ivan CantorBiden faces tall order in uniting polarized nation Can the GOP break its addiction to show biz? Leaving on a high note: Outgoing NRCC head looks to build on 2020 MORE (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.