With the so-called super committee acting mostly in secret, guessing how they'll try to bridge the partisan divide and come up wit at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction has become one of D.C.'s favorite guessing games. Without any outside signs of progress from the 12-member committee, lobbying has begun, with Democrats and Republicans pushing certain cuts while defending their own special interests.
The panel, officially called the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, was part of the legislation passed this summer to raise the federal debt ceiling. It is tasked with reducing the national debt by at least $1.2 trillion or as much as $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years and present that plan to Congress for an up-or-down vote. If the super committee fails, or if Congress or the president reject the plan, across-the-board cuts in defense and social policy spending go into effect automatically. The committee has held few open hearings but has largely operated in secret.
On Thursday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi unveiled 16 letters from the Democratic standing members of House committees, with recommendations on places to look for cost savings. Some more announcements, including some bipartisan ones, are expected before Friday, the deadline set by the act. But the recommendations show just how hard it will be for the super-committee to find savings.
Advice from the Democratic members includes removing duplications, savings in Medicare, (including negotiating Medicare drug prices, a long-time Democratic position), and programs for retrofitting homes for energy conservation. Rep. Barney Frank, the ranking Democrat on the Financial Services Committee, proposed a "Big Bank" fee for financial institutions over $50 billion, as well as other fees for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac which could bring in as much as $28 billion over the next 10 years. Frank also recommended requiring officials from the Treasury Department to fly commercially, rather than using U.S. military planes.
For the most part, the plans repeat a familiar formula. Many of the recommendations aren't controversial, but would barely make any gain towards the needed $1.2 trillion in deficit savings. Others, such as more vague pleas to include broader personal and corporate income tax reform, will likely never be able to bridge the partisan divide. Likely, as with the negotiations for the debt ceiling over the summer, both sides will be able to draw up a laundry list of small items which will get them part of the way there before coming around for the big-ticket items.
But demonstrating just how tricky the super-committee's task is, Democrats and Republicans are spending as much time warning the committee about potential cuts as they are finding savings. In his letter, Rep. Norm Dicks, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, offered only vague deficit reduction ideas, but included dire predictions for the military and the social safety net if the poison pill cuts in the deficit reduction act take effect.
With the super committee's Nov. 23 deadline to submit a plan approaching, they'll need to find something to get to $1.2 trillion. Hopefully, more progress has occurred behind the scenes than has been revealed so far.