Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search

Nine days left: Has the debt 'super committee' found the bipartisan middle?

The deficit-reduction 'super committee' has nine days to get the nation’s fiscal house in order. The closed-door sessions have produced a surprise – the revival of a nearly defunct bipartisan center.

By Staff writer / November 15, 2011

Erskine Bowles, co-chairman of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, details a deficit reduction plan before the US Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. The bipartisan congressional 'super committee' has nine days to break an impasse between Republicans and Democrats to reach a deal to reduce the US budget deficit by at least $1.2 trillion.

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters



With nine days left for Congress to strike a deal to get the nation’s fiscal house in order, success or failure for the 12-member “super committee” are both still plausible outcomes. Congress set a self-imposed deadline of Nov. 23 to come up with a deal.

Skip to next paragraph

The panel needs seven votes on a deal to force at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction over the next 10 years. Sen. Pat Toomey (R) of Pennsylvania last week broke with his party’s anti-tax pledge to propose some $300 billion in new tax revenues. Democrats are said to be on the verge of a counterproposal, as early as today, to include new cuts in entitlement spending likely to offend their party’s base.

But succeed or fail, Congress’s experiment in high-stakes, closed-door deficit-reduction has already produced a surprise – the revival of a nearly defunct bipartisan center, operating outside the strict party lines that have defined congressional politics for the last 20 years. 

Over weeks of discussion, some 45 senators and 102 House members – Republicans and Democrats – broke party lines to back calls for the super committee to “go big” and to put all elements on the table: tax hikes and entitlement cuts, as well as spending cuts.  

Breaking party lines is rare on Capitol Hill. For Senators and House members to work together is rarer still. At a rally in the Capitol Tuesday, these lawmakers aim to signal bipartisan, bicameral support for a big deal that takes political risks.

The center, once a force on Capitol Hill, has been decimated by recent election cycles, especially in the House. Moderate Republicans all but disappeared, and fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats saw their ranks cut in half in the 2008 elections. But fears that the Congress is no longer capable of getting its fiscal house in order have driven lawmakers on both sides of the aisle – and in both the House and Senate – to try to break the gridlock by working across the aisle.

“The whole push to go big has been surprisingly contagious,” says Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. “Members have pushed themselves out of their comfort zones, and I feel like a deal is completely within reach.”

On the Senate side, the effort to build consensus across party lines was lead by Sens. Mark Warner (D) of Virginia and Saxby Chambliss (R) of Georgia, veterans of the so-called Gang of Six, a bipartisan Senate effort to get Congress to act on deficit reduction. Over time, they convinced nearly half the Senate to continue and expand those discussions in a bid to encourage the super committee to aim for a bigger package of deficit reduction than mandated by law.

Last Thursday, dozens of senators rotated in and out of a strategy session to find ways to encourage the super committee to “go big.” One conclusion of that meeting: work with the 100-plus House members to make a significant statement on the need for a big, bipartisan deal.

Not all members associating themselves with this bipartisan drive are moderates. Sen. Tom Coburn (R) of Oklahoma, a longtime conservative, stunned Democrats on Monday when he released a report exposing billions in tax giveaways to millionaires – a Democratic talking point.


Read Comments

View reader comments | Comment on this story