Deficit-reduction committee will only be as good its weakest GOP link

With the debt limit deal now official, all eyes are turning to the so-called “super committee,” chartered with finding at least $1.2 trillion in additional deficit reduction. If the committee fails, it will trigger automatic, across-the-board cuts to Medicare and defense. The committee will be made up of 12 lawmakers, with 3 Republicans and 3 Democrats in each chamber appointed by the respective party leaders in the House and Senate.

Republican leaders have been so focused on getting the debt limit deal across the finish line that they haven’t begun the formal process of deciding who will be on the committee. But based on conversations with Republican staffers in both the House and Senate, here’s some informed speculation about the committee's possible makeup.  

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, both understand that the very idea of a committee has a big credibility problem among conservatives, who see it as a punt, a trap to raise taxes, or both.

That means leadership will be under pressure to appoint members with unquestioned conservative credentials who will push for real spending cuts and hold the line on taxes. That would likely rule out GOP members of the “Gang of Six,” or the at least 15 Republicans who signed a letter supporting it, despite the tax increases.

At the same time, leadership is likely to want to appoint people who they feel are loyal to them (in other words, don’t expect Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, to be getting any phone calls from Boehner to serve). Jordan is chairman of the Republican Study Committee and opposed the speaker's debt-ceiling proposals.

Earlier today, The Weekly Standard's Stephen Hayes reported that anybody who voted against the debt limit compromise would be ineligible to serve on the committee, thus ruling out some of the staunchest fiscal conservatives. I wouldn’t question Hayes’s sources, but I also wouldn’t rule out the possibility that this was a preemptive strike on the part of some conservatives on the Hill.

By floating this news out there, they forced McConnell to quickly deny the report publicly, perhaps meaning that at least one of the “no” votes on the debt limit deal does end up on the committee.

But the important point to remember is that the ultimate product will only be as good for conservatives as the weakest Republican link on the panel. The reason is that a simple majority on the committee is required to approve the recommendations and ensure a quick vote in the House and Senate.

Thus, even if Republicans appointed five of the most ardent tea partiers to the committee who stand firm, we could end up with a proposal to raise taxes if just one squishy Republican caves.

With that said, who are some of the names being floated around the Hill? On the House side, the most obvious choice is House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who knows the budget better than anybody else in the House and has been a long-time proponent of low taxes as well as a strong defense.

In an appearance on CNBC this morning, he said he’d be willing to serve if asked. Beyond that, there’s talk of pairing Ryan’s budget expertise with somebody focused on economics (such as House Ways and Means Chairman Rep. David Camp, R-Mich.) as well as a representative of leadership (perhaps Rep. Jeb Henserling, R- Tex., chairman of the House Republican Conference).

There will be tremendous pressure on Boehner to choose to add a Tea Party freshman to the mix, with Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-KS, figuring prominently among names mentioned in that context.

As far as the Senate is concerned, one name being frequently mentioned is Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, a freshman with prior budget experience as a House member and service in the Bush II administration as director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., is also a possible choice – the ranking GOP member on the Senate Budget Committee who has a solid conservative record. He also voted “no” on the debt limit deal, so if McConnell feels a need to prove the Stephen Hayes report wrong, Sessions could be the obvious choice.

Another name is Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz, who is helping McConnell put together the committee. Other possibilities include the lower profile choices such as Sens. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., and John Barrasso, R-Wy.

As I said at the outset, this is informed speculation, but we’re still early in the process with people still weary from the debt limit battle. So lot can change between now and the time the committee members are actually appointed.

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