The six Republicans on the committee — Senate Republican Whip Jon Kyl, Senators Pat Toomey and Rob Portman, Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, and House Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling — seem a strong enough group, with middling to strong records in support of an agenda to spark economic growth. The Democrats on the committee, on the other hand, are largely less than stellar, with a long record of support for entitlements and a concern for politics that seems to override their passion for federal budgeting issues.
Take Senator Patty Murray, the Democratic co-chairman of the committee. At the same time that she is trying to find $1.5 trillion in spending cuts, she is busy raising money for the 2012 election as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Most political forecasters expect the GOP to take control of the Senate in the next election, regardless of the outcome of the presidential race. This means Murray must face the conflict, every day, between coming up with real reforms that might help the country but hurt her party and the need to win as many Democratic campaigns as possible.
The other Democrats on the super committee — with the exception of Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus — do not have a reputation for being budget hawks either. Sen. John F. Kerry and U.S. Reps. Xavier Becerra and James Clyburn are partisans through and through who no doubt believe their mission is to protect vital Democratic constituencies from the brunt of the coming cuts. Maryland’s Chris Van Hollen, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, is still better known as a recent — and successful — chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, putting him in the same boat where partisan politics are concerned as Murray.
The biggest danger is that, rather than try to do something simple and straightforward, the so-called “super committee” will continue to try to come up with some kind of grand bargain that ends up being too clever by half and only makes problems worse. Already there are rumors about efforts to do something to the corporate tax code that would eliminate deductions but also lower rates — something that is sorely needed but is best done out in the open through the full committee process, not behind closed doors. Indeed the whole process, as more than one member of Congress has already suggested, ought to be out in the open. Transparency is the enemy of business as usual and it ought to be very much in evidence as the work of the “super committee’ begins.