US Deficit Super
Committee Prepares to Begin Work
September 8, 2011
President Barack Obama prepares to unveil proposals to spur U.S.
economic growth and job creation, a bipartisan committee of lawmakers
tasked with slashing the federal deficit prepares to convene for the
first time. The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction will have
less than three months to craft a formula to cut the projected growth of
America’s national debt by more than $1 trillion over 10 years.
If President Obama hopes to convince Congress of the need to spend more
money in the short term to invigorate a languishing U.S. economy, the
so-called deficit super committee has an opposite goal - cutting
expenses in the long term to put the United States on a better fiscal
The committee of six Democrats and six Republicans arose from last
month’s debt-ceiling agreement.
The committee gets to work during a period of low economic growth and
job creation. Under such conditions, some Democratic committee members
are questioning the wisdom of fiscal austerity.
Representative James Clyburn of South Carolina says his constituents
have more pressing concerns than the federal deficit. “These people do
not want to hear me talking about [spending] cuts. They do not want to
hear anything but [creating new] jobs,” Clyburn said.
His words are echoed by another Democratic committee member, Senator
Richard Durbin of Illinois. “We are fixed on the theme of our nation’s
deficit and debt, and we should be. But I might remind my colleagues on
both sides of the aisle, it is virtually impossible to balance the
budget of the United States with 14 million people out of work. You need
to put Americans back to work, earning a good paycheck, paying their
taxes,” Durban said.
Republicans counter that reining in a spendthrift federal government is
necessary for a sound economy, and failing to do so will choke off a
fragile economic recovery and lead to fiscal ruin.
Although not a member of the deficit committee, Senator Jeff Sessions is
the ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee.
“At some point, this country gets to a position where you cannot
continue to borrow without damaging the economy. It is just that simple.
Americans understand it. As one man told me, ‘You cannot borrow your way
out of debt,” Sessions said.
The deficit committee’s recommendations are to be presented by
late-November. They will come to a vote by late-December. Failure to
identify at least $1.2 trillion in budget savings will trigger automatic
spending cuts over a broad range of federal agencies.
It is hoped that the threat of such cuts will force members of the
bipartisan committee to compromise and hammer out a deficit reduction
Economist Alice Rivlin, who served on a debt commission advising
President Obama, says there is a more pressing reason to act.
“The real scary thing is what happens if we do not fix this [debt]
problem. I think the committee has got to be telling itself every
morning at nine o'clock, 'If we do not solve this problem, we could have
a financial meltdown. The markets will turn against us; the economy
could be wrecked for generations,'” Rivlin said.
After a long, bruising, partisan budget battle earlier this year, public
opinion surveys show Americans more skeptical than ever about
Washington’s ability to fix urgent national problems.
Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former Congressional Budget Office chief, says if
the debt committee fails to agree on budget savings, it would reinforce
the public’s negative perception.
debt ceiling fight was a turning point in the American electorate’s
feelings about Washington. And the pressure will be on this committee
from a political point of view to prove that Washington still has some
value to this country, and that the legislative process still works to
some extent,” Holtz-Eakin said.
Committee members are bracing for an expected onslaught of lobbyists
representing unions, business groups, and a host of special interests
determined to preserve existing government programs and tax policies.
Even if the committee identifies more than $1 trillion in savings, and
even if those cuts become law, budget experts say the national debt will
continue to grow. Some say even stronger austerity measures will be
needed in years to come.