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Handicapping the Starting Lineup

A couple days ago in this space I noted that the congressional “super-committee” created by the debt ceiling deal (formally called the “Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction”) was problematic in that it simply recreated in miniature the partisan divisions in the House and Senate.  The argument in its favor, I suppose, is that a smaller group of serious people may be able to reach an agreement that the complete caucuses can’t on their own.  You can apply a lot of organizational and game theory to this question.  Obviously everything depends on who the two parties send to the table.

Prince Harry Reid announced his picks yesterday: Senators Max Baucus, Patty Murray, and John Kerry.  Baucus is thought something of a moderate, and is someone who might well be on board with sensible tax reform (that is, pro-growth tax reform) ideas.  Kerry is hopeless, of course.  Murray is dumb as a post, but is a curious pick because she’s the chair of Democratic Party’s Senate campaign committee, and as such will be looking out for the electoral fortunes of her caucus and candidates.  But she’s also going to have some conflicts over defense spending cuts, since Boeing has such a big presence in her state (though less of a presence than it used to have, since it moved its headquarters to Chicago, and is trying to move much of its Dreamliner production to South Carolina).  She will be curious to watch on this.  I suspect “Progressives” are going to put Baucus on some kind of watch list, and grumble about the whole arrangement.

Today the Republicans have announced their startling lineup.  In the Senate, Jon Kyl, Pat Toomey, and Rob Portman.  This is a solid trio, especially Toomey.  Kyl can be expected to set a pick for defense spending.  All three are solid and calm figures who can withstand Kerry’s bluster and bromides.  If McConnell had picked McCain, Lindsay Graham, or either of the sob-sisters from Maine, I’d know we were doomed to a sellout.

Boehner has picked as the GOP House members Dave Camp, Jeb Hensarling, and Fred Upton.  Hensarling is the star here; Upton may be the weakest of the three.  But notably absent from the roster is Paul Ryan.  However, you can assume that he will be a de facto member of the GOP lineup behind the scenes, and anything the super-committee comes up with will need his buy-in.  Overall the six Republicans look like a strong starting lineup.

Pelosi has yet to name her bench.  Bet on radical nutcases (someone from the black caucus, for example) or bare-knuckled partisans like Chris Van Hollen.

Time for tipoff; let the games begin.

UPDATE:  It turns out Paul Ryan asked not to be asked to be a member of the super-committee, but the statement he released essentially confirms my observation that he’ll be the major behind-the-scenes reality check on this effort:

The Speaker has chosen three excellent Republican members to serve on this Joint Committee in Chairmen Hensarling, Upton and Camp. I asked the Speaker not to consider me for the Joint Committee, because only the Budget Committee can write legislation to reform the budget process. As Budget Committee chairman, my plan has long been to work on this critical issue throughout the fall. This past year has shown that the federal budget process is more broken than ever and needs to be reformed. If we are truly going to put the country’s fiscal house in order, it will not be enough to temporarily reduce what Washington spends. We must permanently reform the process by which working Americans’ hard-earned tax dollars are spent.

The House Budget Committee plans to complement the Joint Committee’s work this fall by holding hearings and marking up legislation to put in place common-sense controls that stop the spending spree in Washington. As things stand, the budget process is stacked in favor of those who want to chase ever-higher spending with ever-higher taxes. In addition to cutting spending by $6.2 trillion in The Path to Prosperity, the Budget Committee will take action to reform our broken budget process in order to bring spending, deficits and debt under control.

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