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Deficit Panel Pressure Increases as Time Fades

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Rep. Jeb Hensarling (left) and Sen. Patty Murray, who co-chair the super committee, have been inundated with budget suggestions from outside groups and Capitol Hill lawmakers.

With a Friday cutoff for formal recommendations to the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction and with time ticking away at the panel’s November final product deadline, outside groups are submitting letters and outlines by the dozen to try to affect what could be a $1.2 trillion deficit deal.

Beltway think tanks spanning the ideological spectrum have been weighing in on how the 12-member bipartisan, bicameral panel might find trillions of dollars of savings, with some frameworks addressing the broad task of deficit reduction and other letters urging the group to protect special interests championed by different shops. And while some memos have been widely distributed and posted online, others are quietly streaming into the inboxes of Members and staffers across the Capitol.

Just as the super committee itself is reviewing existing ideas that came from previous deficit reduction efforts — from the Bowles-Simpson debt panel recommendations to Rivlin-Domenici to the Senate’s “gang of six” — outside groups have the luxury of recycling prior submissions in the hope that they will stick this time around.

Given the pressure on the super committee — Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said at a forum last week that he told the panel’s Republican members he “[expects] there will be an outcome” and they have to reach agreement — perhaps these groups have found their vehicle.

As with any issue in Washington, groups are reaching out to lawmakers of their own party to shore up their cases and present frames through which to advocate for deficit reduction.

“Can a balanced package be achieved? Not likely, given the insistence of the Republican Members that all deficit reduction come from program cuts, and their votes for the Ryan budget plan, which called for even further tax cuts,” reads one memo obtained by Roll Call from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, an organization Democratic leadership aides say is trusted and well-respected among their bosses.

The same memo, however, states that the panel could find more savings over the 10-year window than is required by the Budget Control Act, agreed to between the president and Congressional leaders in August, and that “deadlock” would not necessarily be the same as “failure.” Many Democrats have outwardly suggested that though sequestration — the automatic spending cuts triggered if there is no deal — is not optimal, it was designed in the act to leave Social Security and Medicare untouched.

On the Republican side, Americans for Prosperity submitted a framework that would slash the budgets of federal agencies for $5 trillion of savings over the next 10 years. In the group’s policy paper, $1.3 trillion would be cut from the Department of Agriculture, $116 billion from the Commerce Department, $826 billion from the Education Department, $311 billion from the Department of Energy, $429 billion from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and $103 billion from the Federal Communications Commission.

“Instead of limiting the size of government, we have allowed it to grow to an enormous size. Instead of allowing the ‘invisible hand’ of free markets to operate, we have allowed government’s hand to reach deeply into every aspect of our economy,” the proposal reads.

“Americans for Prosperity believes this Committee, its structure, and the unchecked power given to it are all deeply flawed — Congress should never abdicate to majoritarian impulses its authority to represent the people through the legislative process, with all its built-in checks and balances and normal procedural protections. Nonetheless, working within the law as it stands, the Committee has a unique opportunity to enact spending cuts that tackle the immediate problem of deficit reduction while driving economic growth now and in the future.”

The Center for American Progress, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group,  National Taxpayers Union, Third Way, Taxpayers for Common Sense, Center for Science in the Public Interest, the National Coalition on Healthcare, the International Franchising Association and 99 medical associations — alongside a slew of inside-the-Dome groups, from individual lawmakers to committee chairmen — have already passed along their advice to the super committee.

The question now is, with the cacophony of voices, how many will actually be heard by the 12 people inside the room? To date, the super committee’s process has been closed off and guarded, with many meetings of the principals taking place without staffers or with a limit of one per Member. It’s widely acknowledged by sources close to the committee and the Congressional process that the panel does not have to reinvent the wheel. Lawmakers have a menu of options; it’s just a matter of which choices are palatable given the political climate and the short clock.

And though leadership is paying attention, leaders are not actively involved, like many believe they might start to be as the Thanksgiving deadline approaches. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), who co-chair the panel, met Wednesday with House and Senate leaders in Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) office.

“Outside groups, if they’re sending information directly to the Joint Select Committee, by virtue of the fact that leadership is in constant contact with members, leaders have been made aware of various proposals,” one Senate leadership aide said. “They are pulling from an infinitely large group of ideas and need to narrow those down into what can work and what can actually pass.”

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