The cast for this fall's budget brawl is set, but it is anyone's guess whether the group will play long ball, small ball or put off the toughest decisions until after the 2012 elections.
Congressional leaders picked 12 Members for the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction last week amid turbulence on Wall Street that followed Standard & Poor's historic downgrade of U.S. debt. It was a downgrade S&P blamed in part on partisan bickering over raising the debt ceiling.
"I can't imagine circumstances that would put more pressure on us to get something done," Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) said last week on Fox News after he was named to the committee. "When you consider what's happened in just the last few weeks, you know, it really all points to the urgency of doing something meaningful."
Initial statements from leaders and committee members began in a conciliatory fashion, with a charge to agree on a deficit reduction package of at least $1.2 trillion.
But the roster, composed primarily of staunch partisans close to leadership, doesn't inspire hope for a big compromise.
Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.) will be juggling her duties as Senate Democrats' campaign chief and co-chairwoman of the committee. And the other co-chairman, House Republican Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling (Texas), might be the most conservative member of the GOP leadership team.
And no Members of the bipartisan "gang of six" lawmakers in the Senate made the cut.
The committee doesn't lack for experience — four of the 12 picks served on last year's fiscal commission led by former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) and President Bill Clinton's White House chief of staff, Erskine Bowles. But all four — Hensarling, Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and House Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Xavier Becerra (Calif.) — voted against the compromise Simpson and Bowles authored.
Still, some of the picks have worked across the aisle — notably Baucus and freshman Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), the former budget director for President George W. Bush who has respect on both sides of the aisle for his budget acumen and interest in crafting a deal.
But the larger dilemma remains, regardless of who was picked. How can you fashion a compromise between Republicans, who have vowed not to raise taxes, and Democrats, who are demanding an end to tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations before they will consider cutting Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security?