Feb. 8, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Next Debt Test: Panel Picking

Bill Clark/Roll Call
Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl served in Vice President Joseph Biden’s debt limit group, but he was coy about whether he might find a spot on the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction.

The debt deal between the White House and Congress has been law for less than 24 hours, but lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are already expressing skepticism about a new “super committee” and its ability to come through with at least $1.2 trillion in additional budget savings.

The 12-Member bipartisan, bicameral joint committee is one of the cornerstones of the new law designed to cut the deficit by $3 trillion during the next 10 years while extending the debt ceiling through the 2012 elections. But the wide differences that created one of Washington’s ugliest battles this summer will not be bridged in 10 weeks, sources say.

So despite open protestations otherwise, it’s likely the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction could find itself as just the latest gridlocked bipartisan panel come its Thanksgiving deadline.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have 14 days to appoint their designees to the panel. And as Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said Tuesday, Washington observers will have “a very good indication of whether this committee is going to work when you see who’s appointed to it.”

While the political pressures on leaders to make selections that are pleasing to different party factions might be great — especially on the GOP side, where tea party interests have reigned supreme — aides suggested that loyalty to leadership could be the biggest factor in their choices.

Because the policy positions of both sides are so entrenched, with Republicans refusing to budge on revenues and Democrats still seeking continued protection of entitlements, leaders’ choices will be about people who will exhibit party discipline and not go rogue on their top brass.

“It’s all about loyalists,” one Senate aide said. “The leaders are not going to do something that will make them feel nervous about these negotiations — nobody wants freelancing.”

The most serious political nihilists on the Hill questioned whether the composition of the panel would even matter, given that the new committee has just 10 weeks to do what the Senate’s bipartisan “gang of six” could not do in six months and what the president’s fiscal commission could not do in eight months. They also wondered whether the enforcement mechanism, which would trigger $1.2 trillion in cuts, would in practice be all that different than what the panel would come up with.

On Tuesday, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) — a member of the gang of six and a Democratic negotiator in talks with the president last month — cast some doubt that the panel could do all that it set out to do.

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