The Republican and Democratic co-chairmen of the newly created Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction are in talks to ramp up the panel, but significant logistical decisions remain unresolved, Congressional aides said.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) spoke Friday by phone, according to one aide familiar with the talks.
House Budget Committee ranking member Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) one of the committee’s 12 members, said in a brief interview, that the co-chairmen “are working as fast as they can” to get the committee up and running. Van Hollen said he too has had initial conversations with Murray and Hensarling.
Items under discussion include naming a staff director, what other staff will be needed, where the group will meet and the timing of the meetings — as well as whether it will meet in public or behind closed doors.
Putting the new committee in place represents a challenge that will take time to navigate. However it will lay a foundation that gives the panel the best chance of achieving its goal of agreeing on $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years by Nov. 23, Van Hollen indicated.
“These things don’t happen overnight,” an aide said. “For the panel to do its work and have successful, substantial meetings, a lot of those decisions have to be made ahead of time.”
Aides stressed that the issues are being considered in a bipartisan manner. The committee is made up of six Republicans and six Democrats.
Another aide also familiar with committee members’ thinking said that the “momentum is to have open committee meetings,” but noted that nothing has been settled.
Decisions could be announced prior to the Senate’s return from the August recess on Sept. 6, an aide said. The House is scheduled to return by Sept. 7.
The joint committee has until Sept. 16 to hold its initial meeting. Under the law that created the panel, the first meeting is to be held no later than 45 days after enactment of the law.
But Van Hollen said it was possible that the committee could meet sooner than Sept. 16.
“I am ready to get started,” he said.
As far as his preparation is concerned, Van Hollen said he is meeting with think-tank budget experts and with Democratic budget committee staff to work up the policy recommendations he will make.
He also said he wouldn’t rule out hiring staff in connection with his work on the committee.
“It’s possible,” Van Hollen said.
The Maryland Democrat said he is optimistic that the panel will be successful.
“Its clear the American people want us to work together,” he said.
He added that “the markets are watching,” a nod to recent downgrade of the United States’ credit rating by Standard & Poor’s as well as the stock market’s volatility in recent weeks.
The joint committee was part of a deal reached by House Republicans, Senate Democrats and the White House to raise the debt ceiling. The agreement included $917 billion in spending cuts over 10 years, and created the panel to find $1.5 trillion in additional deficit reduction by mid-November. Any bill that comes out of the committee would be voted on the House and Senate without amendment by about Christmas.
If they fail to reach agreement, a harsh $1.2 trillion automatic spending cut would be triggered. Van Hollen called it a “sword of Damocles hanging” over the committee and said that he believes it will motivate Members to reach a compromise. The panel can avoid the automatic cuts if it can agree on at least $1.2 trillion in savings.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.